Saturday, April 16, 2022

Portrait de La Jeune Fille en Feu/Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Movie Name:
Portrait de La Jeune Fille en Feu/Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Céline Sciamma
Starring: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Céline Sciamma made a name for herself with the films "Tomboy" and "Girlhood", but "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" has thus far been her most critically acclaimed feature to date. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the award for best screenplay, but went on to win numerous accolades and generally be acclaimed across various film festivals. The film which takes place in the 18th century, follows the story of Marianne, a painter who is commissioned to do a portrait of a young woman named Héloïse, to seal her proposed marriage to a man she has yet to meet (a Milanese nobleman). This commission is being done secretly by her mother, since the previous painter failed to complete his task, due to the fact that Héloïse isn't happy about the arrangement. Héloïse was previously living in a convent, and the arrangement was set in motion after her older sister died by suicide. Since Héloïse's mother doesn't want the same outcome for this painting, Marianne has to act as a hired companion of Héloïse, and draw her from memory. They soon forge a friendship, and Marianne eventually confesses her role and what she has done. Héloïse questions the finished portrait, and Marianne destroys it. After a confrontation with Héloïse's mother, she actually decides to pose for Marianne, and a timeline is decided for the completion of this new version of the painting. However as they go through the process of creating the painting, and their every day life, a complicity between these women emerges, which soon goes beyond friendship.
"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" is a film that manages to capture the blossoming of a relationship between two women in a way that feels tender, intimate and sincere. Both women progressively realize the intensity of their feelings, but also how their relationship has its own limitations and expiration date, due to the society in which they live. While the fantastic "Blue is the Warmest Color" illustrated the maturing of a young woman's identity, one that also included her own understanding of her sexuality, "Portrait..." never really poses the question if the relationship between these two women is sensical or not. These are two individuals, meeting at a specific time in their lives, where a shared intimacy organically evolves and blossoms, until it consumes them both. It is however a film where this blissful intimacy is married with the notion that their lives have to go in their own directions, that a sacrifice will have to be done, which of course only further crystalizes what they felt and experienced together. It's a beautifully rendered and acted film, one that has some dashes of influences from Bruno Nuytten's "Camille Claudel", without the brilliant intensity of Isabelle Adjani, but nonetheless equally impactful even if the characters could have benefited from some extra dimension to themselves. The cast is equally impeccable, with highlights going to Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel and Valeria Golino. The cinematography from Claire Mathon is naturalistic, but all the more intimate in the evenings in which the film takes place. A very good film worth watching.