Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is special because it represents the lesbian experience from a place of truth, since both the director and a lead actress (Sciamma and Haenel) are lesbians, and were a couple in the past. It is specific. Héloïse’s lack of attraction to men is made integral to their romance, a facet of lesbian desire that is usually glossed over. Once the relationship grows physical, it is never fetishized. Any scene that may feel erotic almost seems to be an inside joke, like the shot of a hand in an armpit made to look vaginal. Here, sex is not something to leer at, but a fact of life, and one that can be joked about like any other. Many have called this “coining the female gaze,” but that implies that the view is adjacent to male gaze films a la Blue is the Warmest Color. This is something more, a kind of naturalism that treats sex as an act instead of a performance, highlighting the tender intimacy without the voyeurism.

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