Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

600th Film Special | At this point, the world can agree with the fact that 2019 was one of the most breathtaking years in cinema and we know which films support this fact. And if I was to choose just two of all these pictures to resume what that year felt like, Parasite and Céline Sciamma's Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu are the only answer. 

Sciamma's paradigmatic queer romance takes us to a majestic beach with the most light-blueish waves you will ever see located in Bretagne, where the incredibly talented Marianne arrives to paint a portrait of a mesmerizing Héloïse, who feels trapped by the impotence of her forced marriage to a Milanese man. Héloïse doesn’t want to be painted, she just won’t pose, she is upset with her mother for the fear it represents to marry a man she hasn’t seen. So, Marianne won’t tell her truth, instead she is hired as a companion. They walk every afternoon by the shore, exchanging shy looks with each other. Then, an unexplainable overdose of love injects these women, and just before Héloïse's portrait is finished, they have experimented love as they never did. 

I knew this film was highly acclaimed, and I can finally understand why. Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu is more than just a simple-crafted romance, it creates a unique intimacy between its characters which is captured through Sciamma's acting direction. The painter, bilingual and pianist Noémie Merlant (Marianne) expels what it feels to be in love expressing an exchange of glances with the bewitching Adèle Haenel (Héloïse). These girls deliver some of the best acting from the century with simplistic yet fascinating emotional range and eye contact. 

But the film is not only a masterpiece because of its cast. The promising French filmmaker has a magisterial take on the direction of the film. This is a looking-forward approach for queer cinema; an insight of the feminine standards from the eighteenth century while de-ideologizes these concepts with a powerful feminine empowerment message that breakdowns typical women stereotypes. All that in 120 minutes…

What’s more, I thought Sciamma neglected the musical section and focused on the storyline, acting, cinematography and art design, yet she doesn’t! In fact, the music is one of the most important narrative tools of the film, with such weight that crowns her masterpiece with a first-class usage of Vivaldi's Storm by the end of the story along Adèle's heartrending performance.  

Sciamma also relies—brilliantly, if I may say—on embedded narrative recited by the characters. Héloïse reads a novel to Marianne and Sophie, who works as a handmaid at the place, and I could have thought that this is just a regular scene that keeps developing the lovers' desire, yet it goes beyond, and as well as the importance of Vivaldi, the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice plays a fundamental role in these women's lives. 

And perhaps the most noticed and praised aspect of the feature: the delicate cinematography. With its elegant framing choices, Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu is a motion painting. The so-carefully-shot romance stands out over most historical dramas, making its own way to a closer place aside the mythic Barry Lyndon as the most gorgeous set designs in cinema—not the only ones, I am aware of the quality in many other works. The camera creates intimacy with Marianne and Héloïse, and we are not part of that intimacy, merely observers. From Close Up Shots to Great Wides, Claire Mathon tells a genuinely powerful story with her wonderful exploitation of the marvels a camera can capture. 

Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu doesn’t want to share a love story, it goes further; it’s scheme-breaker, intense, emotional and overall as artistic as it intends to be. Céline Sciamma reopens the gates for future filmmakers who would love to share their stories about the arduous desire to be free. I’m truly grateful that Sciamma, Ducournau, Zhao and Gerwig are marking what’s perhaps the greatest cinema revolution since Varda's for women who want to tell their stories throughout the magic of cinema. 

P. D. LOVE the fire instead of the stars, Letterboxd is the greatest social media ong.

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