Review | ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’

Fine, Subtle Portrait of Taboo Love

After contemporary coming-of-age themes, delivered with her own understated style, French writer-director Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies, Girlhood) journeyed to another time and place for her brilliant latest film, awarded as Best Screenplay at Cannes. In France circa the late 18th century, artist Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is hired to paint a wedding portrait of a beautiful aristocrat fresh out of the convent, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). It’s a simple narrative structure yielding surprisingly rich and moving results, with unabashed feminist overtones. Key scenes include a telling image Héloïse with her dress on fire — prescient of love and fates to come — an abortion scene with the patient lying next to a baby, and a tragically doomed love theme linked to Eurydice. Portrait is a quiet, slow-brewing and uniquely sensual film, spare and minimalist but never cool to the touch. It’s also rare story about the art of painting, detailing the art-making process, marked by prolonged gazing and ultimately meeting of artist-subject, turned intimate and sexual. Early in their relationship, Héloïse asks her lover “Do all lovers think they’re inventing something?” With Portrait, Sciamma has invented a fine and subtle portrait of taboo love. 

As a free weekly community newspaper, we must evolve and grow in order to stay relevant and thrive in the digital space. If our reporting on the Santa Barbara community matters to you, we hope you will join us in securing a strong future for journalism in our region by supporting the Independent through a digital subscription to Independent.com. Breaking news, critical content, and our print publication will always remain free, but your support will allow us to create even more consistent, quality, independent journalism.

Login

Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.