Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

Art, memory, and forbidden love intertwine thematically in Celine Sciamma's "Portrait of a Lady on Fire".

Replete with richness, even the title is overdetermined. Does it play on Henry James' "Portrait of a Lady"? If so, that hot little qualifier "on fire" expands into myriad ideas of smouldering love, rage, sex, witches, loss, and more. Might the title also allude to James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"? Well, that works, too, since the young painter in the film, Marianne, truly does become part of the portrait she's painting of Heloise. And as we know, the view always contains the viewer; art is a mirror.

"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" is a decidedly female portrait, too, dealing with a woman's right to choose, how women commune with each other - as family, friends or lovers - and how all of this can transcend class and time.

I haven't even written, yet, of the film's stunning beauty: absolutely clear in its vision and breath-taking in its aesthetic appreciation of nature, all kinds of art (music, needlepoint, cooking, singing), and the human form itself. Outside - in the wind, by the sea, in the sand, by the fire; inside - in the salons, the galleries, the bedrooms, even in the clothing the women wear, every little detail is so perfect, so tactile, as though you can feel it, hear it, smell it, as though you were there. This is a haptic movie if ever there was one. Memories are often triggered by the senses and this love story is about remembering, its visceral sensuality the perfect complement. "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" is indelible, haunting, and burned into my mind for good.


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