Portrait of a Lady on Fire


This LGBT French picture is worth a thousand words.

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a radiant and passionate French film about a female painter, a reserved aristocrat, and the romance that sparks between them. As a period piece (the end of the 18th century to be exact), writer/director Celine Sciamma gives these women the brains and independence they deserve, while acknowledging the realities that emerge around them.

The painter Marianne (Noemie Merlant) says it’s forbidden for a woman to paint pictures of men, and so she makes portraits of women; while the aristocrat Heloise (Adele Haenel) is set to marry a Milanese man. These are the realities I’m conveying.

I recall my experiences watching “Blue is the Warmest Color.” Although I found the film to be passionate, I felt its NC-17-rated sex scenes went on too long. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is R-rated,  but it doesn’t care about the sex, it cares about their personalities and ambitions.

The film begins with Marianne arriving on an island in the west of France, where she is assigned by the countess (Valeria Golino) to paint a portrait of her daughter Heloise. The thing is she refuses to poise for them, so Marianne draws sketches of her when she isn’t looking, as they spend time together. When Heloise finds out her true intentions, she’s repulsed that the portrait of her has no life, and a new one must be crafted. That’s when she agrees to poise. Eventually, they develop romantic feelings for one another.

On the side, they befriend a young servant named Sophie (Luana Bajrami), who with a third child on the way, wants to have an abortion. We learn from the lass in the beginning that Heloise had a sister, who committed suicide by jumping off a cliff. I guess it has something to do with her artistic mind. I can’t say for sure.

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is filled with beauty, grace, and respectfulness to the LGBT world. Despite its time period, it isn’t demeaning towards women and their choices; it’s open-minded and brains are provided for the two main heroines. The performances from Merlant and Haenel are mesmerizing, and their chemistry keeps the audience interested in their ambitions and thoughts.

Each brush stroke (as I’m now discussing about its artistic abilities), has more meaning and love than another recent art film I saw “The Burnt Orange Hersey.” Each portrait and painting were crafted by Helene Delamire, who spent hours trying to capture their magic. I’m gazing at the colors, sketches, and costume designs, and I’m feeling a special vibe: one that knows the film shares its love for women and art.

Each image is shot gloriously, each performance is acted ferociously, and each moment pushes our thoughts from one canvas to the next. This was not nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars, but rather a Golden Globe. Nonetheless, it’s still a marvel of an international film to gaze at.


Categories: Drama, Foreign, Romance

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