Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★½

Before getting into my review, you should definitely watch this video essay on what Portrait of a Lady on Fire tells us about "the Gaze". It's nothing less than the best video essay I've seen regarding this movie.

So, holy FUCK, it was good. Not later than when the women started singing a latin chorus, it had me at the edge of my seat. Which lasted until the mesmerizing end.
Was it the best movie of 2019? I wouldn't say, that place goes to Parasite. But comparing these two masterfully crafted movies has no real sense. I believe that the right movie to compare it with is one of my favourite works of the decade, Call Me by Your Name. Was Sciamma's french period film better than Guadagnino's romance? Neither that, but I love both of these movies for one particular reason.

I love Portrait of a Lady on Fire, in my eyes every shot is perfect, there are no flaws in pace and rhythm, the whole movie is simply beautiful. Yet I don't think the theme of the movie is outstanding. We had a lot of great lesbian romances throughout the last years (also great french ones, remember Blue is the Warmest Colour which changed quite a lot in that genre). Portrait[…] doesn't add so much new to the genre, neither is it very emancipatory or feminist. Sciamma herself says in an interview that she "didn't want to make this portrait of a strong woman, just wanted to make a portrait of a woman at work." Compared to Call Me by Your Name, I don't think Sciamma's work is a huge progress for the queer scene or for the representation of lesbians in cinema.
I also believe that homophobia against gay community is much more serious than against lesbian community (at least in film). I often heard little minds saying that they find sexual scenes between men "disgusting", at the same time they liked watching these scenes between women. Call Me by Your Name was quite revolutionary regarding this topic. Not only showing explicit gay love in a rather popular movie, but also showing a Coming-of-Age-lovestory and love between different ages. Sure, we had a lot of good movies representing gay community, but Guadagninio put a certain tension into the scenes, created an atmosphere of love and sexuality in the movie. The camera was in love with the male bodies, too.
Portrait doesn't attempt to revolutionize the genre like CMbYN did, when it comes to queer representation and the queer struggle, it was rather just an "ordinary" romance than a huge step forward. But what a romance! One of the most beautiful and most sensual of the decade.

But there is one particular reason why I love both, Call Me by Your Name and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, so much. Why both are - at least in that field - revolutionary. Why both are so important for contemporary cinema.
They both bring back sophistication, intellect, art and culture into cinema. That's the aspect I loved the most about Call Me by Your Name, and you can find it here as well. To say it in easy words: In both works, the protagonists listen to classical music, they surround themselves with art - paintings, cultures -, they read and discuss great classical books, the topic of discussions aren't dull and empty, but rich of culture and intellect. Call Me by Your Name had clearly more intellectual references, but it's Sciamma's work which proves that going to theatre or just listening a piece of classical music can move us to tears, create real emotions. The way Marianne speaks about the beauty of orchestra and art is simply delightful.
I believe that refinement and sophistication are in a serious crisis nowadays. It's a great sign that independent movies like this one or Parasite are getting so much attention at the moment, but apart from that, I have the strong feeling that most parts of society have completely lost the sense for beauty in culture and art. That we became a consumer society adjusted to capitalism.
Guadagnino and Sciamma motivate us to radically overthink our style of consume and living. They show the audience the beauty of art and culture, the beauty of an intellectual life surrounded by art and culture. They beg us to stop wasting our time with Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, shopping, theme parks, Marvel, Malls, [put in here every trend of a consumer Society, I'm tired of searching examples].

Go hear an orchestra.
Go see a play in theatre.
Go visit an art exhibition.
Read an intelligent classic.
Go watch Portrait of a Lady on Fire or Call Me by Your Name in cinema.
Live an intellectual and cultivated life.

watched in Delhi, India

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