Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★

The early scenes, nearly wordless, forcing you to try and figure out what kind of world these characters inhabit and what they are going to do next, put me in an observant, receptive mindset which heightened the rest of the experience.

I never thought of myself as particularly a fan of love stories, but I think lesbian love stories are turning that bias around. Maybe the edge comes from the additional weight they give to communication that is indirect or metaphorical or entirely non-verbal. Particularly in a historical romance like Portrait, the forbidden nature of the love seems to dilate my perceptions somehow. Any romantic or erotic feeling is energized by the emotional and intellectual effort of trying to put oneself into someone else's place across some kind of differential. By the end of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, these feelings have been energized to the point of ignition.

My instinctual reaction to a historical drama is a moronic "That sounds boring" (I resisted Hamilton for a while out of the same misguided repulsion) but there's something delicious about cinematic efforts to invoke the past; the past, as dramatically recreated in a movie, both resists our projections (we know intuitively that the past is different) and invites our projections (we don't really know exactly how it's different, and with the exception of a relatively small number of historians and students of history, we're ignorant, which leaves room for the imagination). To this layman, watching Portrait felt like peeking behind the curtain of stolid patriarchal assumptions, and getting a glimpse of an alternative narrative, hiding in plain sight.

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