Portrait of a Lady on fire, a film by Céline Sciamma
We won’t beat about the bush: “Portrait of a lady on fire” is a masterpiece, and time will tell.
As you will see for yourselves, Céline Sciamma’s fourth feature film (“Water Lilies”, “Tomboy” and “Girlhood”) is a sensorial treasure. On this occasion, the story takes place in the French region of Brittany, in 1770, a time when women had a very clear fate and very little say. They were practically like an accessory to men, and they had no choice but to marry, whether they wanted to or not. Given that it was their duty, it was a sin to question the arranged marriage, were it loveless or not, and to refuse was to dig your own grave.
Taking this awful context into account, the story of Marianne (Noémie Merlant) and Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is one of two heroines who unintentionally and against all odds live a sublime love story, which transcends carnal desire by far. A furtive adventure, with art as the backdrop, a brutal and rugged location adding the final touch to the suffering that they inevitably have to experience.
“Portrait of a lady on fire” is an ode to true love, regardless of gender or prejudice. An affirmation of what falling in love and feeling an uncontrollable attraction for another person means. A process full of physical, sexual and, in this case above all, platonic fascination. Because even though our hopes lead us to a different outcome, Sciamma leaves us in no doubt, but in spite this it does not disappoint the viewer. Quite the opposite, because the impossibility of the situation stokes their desire even more, adds to the poetry in each scene and transforms the drama into an unforgettable epic.
Another of the things we enjoyed most about this film is the position it manages to make us, the viewers, adopt. She turns us into true voyeurs, who discover the first palpitations, those first penetrating and sometimes elusive glances, those first smiles, those first touches, those first flutters… That unspoken language, that everyone seems oblivious to, but that Sciamma shows us subtly and exquisitely, allowing us to witness this secret, enigmatic passion that is so sensual.
We cannot finish this review without remarking on the film’s magnificent art and photography. Each image is a gift and a possible canvas. The soundtrack is the cherry on this delicious cake, making “Portrait of a lady on fire” an absolute pass with merit.
A heart-rending fim, full of poetry, art and love in all their glory. Highly recommendable.