Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

You could best describe "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" as an art movie, as opposed to strictly an art-house movie, and 'a women's picture' since it deals both with painting and the very deeply felt relationships between women and it's one of the most beautifully made movies ever made on either subject. The period is the 18th Century, the setting an island off the coast of Brittany and Marianne is the young artist employed by La Comtesse to paint a portrait of her daughter Heloise but without Heloise knowing she's being painted. Both women are exceedingly beautiful in that plain, simple way women were at a time before Hollywood glamour distorted our image and both actresses, (Noemie Merland as Marianne and Adele Haenel, the director's partner, as Heloise), perform with so much simplicity and grace as to appear not to be acting at all. Naturally a bond grows between them and they fall in love.

Celine Sciamma's film, (she made "Tomboy" and "Girlhood"), is not a conventional LGBT romance any more than Jane Campion's "The Piano" was a conventional heterosexual romance. Yes, it's a love story between two women but it is so much more; it's a film about female friendship, trust and the ability of art to break down barriers. Heloise, first seen from the back in a blue cloak, (she could be Sarah Woodruff in "The French Lieutenant's Woman"), thinks Marianne has been hired purely as a companion and initially treats her curtly, (she most certainly doesn't want that portrait painted), but in time they grow closer. Marianne has found her perfect subject while Heloise has found her truest companion.

There is also a third main character, a young maid, also beautifully played by Luana Bajrami, who becomes Marianne's confidante and her mistress' friend. This is a movie made by women about women that is both delicate and strong and very modern in its outlook. It's the decor and not the dialogue that tells us we are in the distant past and like a good, post-modern look back at history isn't afraid to be funny now and then. Aimed perhaps at an art-house audience this is a film that deserves to be seen by everyone; a masterpiece.