Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

H(eloise)/(aenel): I believed you braver.
M(arianne)/(erlant): I believed you braver too.
H: That's it then. You find me docile. Worse... You imagine
I'm collusive. You imagine my pleasure.

M: It's a way of avoiding hope.
H: Imagine me happy or unhappy if that reassures you. But
do not imagine me guilty. You'd prefer me to resist.

M: Yes.
H: Are you asking me to? Answer me.
M: No.

Going by what I posted here 3 months ago on how personal Portrait of a Lady on Fire is to me, anyone who knows me or follows me here, in turn, might know my love for this film and its relationship with my relationship. Having gone through various emotional stages of a relationship this year in ways I didn't even imagine I would be going through one day, after this rewatch, I can finally confirm the doubt I had during my first watch of Portrait of a Lady on Fire 7 months ago on Feb 22, i.e., instead of writing⁣ her own Dialogue for the film, Sciamma ma'am indeed undertook a secret voyage in observing all the ebbs and flows in various relationships across the world and somehow miraculously managed to assemble all those pieces of conversations she overheard into her craft while painting this singular portrait of a universal masterpiece on love, longing and memories!
I always feel like the depth or ambiguity present in the scene quoted above is perhaps greater than the one present in even stories of some mindbending films because one can at least read online about what meant what wrt the science or structure associated with the latter, but in the case of former, the science of feelings/perspectives is way too complicated to offer a single logical explanation. In this regard, I watched many films with tons of ambiguity on an overall scale or in specific scenes, but this film is one of those rare instances where not just this scene, but many words in this scene can assume different meanings depending on how you choose to look at them or hear them on subsequent rewatches. For instance, regular words like "braver", "docile", "pleasure", "resist" go miles beyond what they mean literally in English here and have layers 'n' layers of meanings to peel back when you think about them once in the context of the present tense of their relationship and then later in the future tense of their marriage.⁣⁣
It's clear that words mean magic to Sciamma going by how she used them so minimally to get her points across maximally and with every rewatch of the film, my respect for her and Merlant-Haenel duo keeps increasing for the way each one of them took so much care to ensure that every word uttered or emotion felt in the film initially comes back to the characters in some way towards the later stages of the film just like how waves always come back after leaving the shore. Sciamma narrating to the cast about what she expressed on script paper is one thing and on the top of that, Merlant-Haenel understanding those words pitch-perfectly and expressing them on their faces by giving a new literary expression to each word they speak, to such an extent of speaking just through eyes or gestures when words couldn't express what they feel, is another thing. By playing or underplaying wherever required, both of them added so much emotional ambiguity to many moments in the film so much so that all of them feel like a fourth wall break if you've been in similar situations anytime!

Coming to my initial point, it's actually funny how Portrait of a Lady on Fire used fewer words when compared to a usual classic romantic drama and still managed to become a holy book of sorts by containing each and every word/feeling everyone could ever speak/feel of in their lifetime of relationship(s). In case of some classics, we feel like lucky are those who get to watch those particular films freshly for the first time, but in the case of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, trust me, lucky are those who find time to rewatch this film again and again in their life because I just can't put to words how much it rewards repeat viewings and all I can say is a huge thank you to the film's team for making my job easy to convey things just through screenshots!

M S Krishna Prateek liked these reviews