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article imageReview: ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ is a love story for the ages Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Feb 17, 2020 in Entertainment
‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ is an impressive picture about two women who fall in love under difficult circumstances, capturing their passion in stirring art.
The Kinsey scale suggests most people are not entirely on either end of the spectrum in regards to their sexuality. Therefore, it’s not surprising when men or women spend most of their time with the same sex, relationships can develop in spite of previous/current predilections… or more typically, in spite of people’s assumptions about their predilections. Unfortunately, various situations prevent people from pursuing these interests or from making them a long-term arrangement, so they’re enjoyed in secret for as long as possible. In Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a young woman is promised to a man she’s never met in spite of her protests.
Marianne’s (Noémie Merlant) father was a renowned painter and she’s followed in his footsteps, doing exquisite portraits of her clients that capture their likeness as well as their spirit. However, her latest appointment is a bit more difficult as she must capture the lady’s image without her realizing it. Héloïse’s (Adèle Haenel) would-be husband requires a picture of her before the marriage arrangements can be finalized, so she’s cunningly refused to sit for any artist in objection to the union. Therefore, Marianne is stationed as a companion to accompany Héloïse on her excursions, studying her features and returning to her room at night to paint from memory. But as their days together draw nearer to their end, the pair grow closer, making Marianne’s task even more difficult to complete.
The film is an intriguing love story as it begins with one woman who’s withdrawn from the world as she mourns her future and another who has a secret that could destroy any chance of them having a relationship. As Marianne — and the audience — learn more about the circumstances of Héloïse’s engagement, it’s easy to empathize with her situation. Even though it begins as just a job for Marianne, she develops a desire to get to know Héloïse better and bring her out of the shell… initially under the guise of needing to see her smile for the portrait, but then just to lessen the gloom that envelopes her. It’s a beautiful depiction of an emotional and sexual relationship that has a lasting effect on both women without objectifying them or endorsing the male gaze.
This is very much a woman’s narrative as all the key characters are female, as is writer/director Céline Sciamma. Yet, even though most of the men are kept at a distance, their influence on these women is severe. But amongst each other, they’re able to relax and enjoy each other’s company, provide support and accept each other’s choices. One of the most fascinating scenes is that of an old-fashioned abortion, which is then crudely recreated to be captured as an artistic pose.
The film is authentic in its depiction of their relationship, while the title portrait is a fitting representation of their romance.
Director: Céline Sciamma
Starring: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel and Luàna Bajrami
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