Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

This is the first film I've seen by Celine Sciamma and I'm so impressed: there's a remarkable quietness to Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a stillness that makes the few scenes set to music all the more powerful. It is a film that lulls you with its elegance and reticence before hitting you with indelible moments of furious passion. A film of gazes and looks but occasional impassioned conversation, rapture and heartbreak.

It does everything with a wonderful simplicity, is explicitly about feminism and patriachal power without ever seeming hectoring or obvious. It is a film that comes at you with the open direct gaze of the two main charracters: Heloise and Marrianne.

The surprise for me is that although it is a film about two lovers, it plays for much of the run time as more of a portait of three women with the maid, Sophie, the third part of a kind of accidental sisterhood. Many of the best scenes: of the abortion, the card game, the discussion of Orpheus and Eurydice, the making of dinner, have these three women in a beautifully drawn ideal of gentle solidarity, of shared space and ideas and emotional honesty. They are the warmest parts of the film.

The budding relationship at the heart of the movie is drawn without much in the way of overt sexuality. It has none of the prurience of similarly minded films, it is a film both about the female gaze but one also filmed through the eyes of a woman. It is incredibly sensitive and very beautiful.

Every frame is gorgeous, the lighting, the dresses, the spartan landscapes and plaster walls of the Brittany home, the framing and colour and sense of natural drama is supreme. The ending is perfect, encapsulating all the themes and the ideas and emotions in one wordless shot set to some wonderful Viivaldi.

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