Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Celine Sciamma, 2019, France)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Celine Sciamma's latest feature, is a gorgeously photographed exploration of an illicit romance in 1700s France. The film tells the story of an aristocrat by the name Heloise (Adele Haenel), who is being married off to a man in Milan. Her mother is attempting to arrange a painting of her, but so far she has refused to be agreeable to all the painters who have visited. This changes with the arrival of Marianne (Noemie Merlant), who initially comes under the pretense of being a companion to Heloise and going on walks with her. Over time, the true nature of Marianne's visit is revealed and a relationship begins to develop between Heloise and Marianne.

In contrast to many other popular films examining same-sex love affairs between women, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is directed by a woman who identifies as a lesbian. Not only this, but Sciamma had a long romantic relationship with actress Adele Haenel which ended not long before the beginning of the film's shoot. This adds a unique aspect to the film. The film is clearly in some ways a tribute to the relationship between Sciamma and Haenel. It seems to be a celebration of a love affair that was short-lived, but no less beautiful. 

While the film is predictable in the sense that we know Marianne and Heloise can never end up together in the confines of the story, the film is unique in the way that it explores the relationships between women, and women of different classes during the time portrayed. Particularly sensitive is the portrayal of the housekeeper Sophie, played by Lauana Bajrami. There are also some memorable sequences, including a fireside musical number by a group of women who probably at the time would have been considered witches. 


8/10


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