Women are strong, resilient and unflappable in everything we approach except for love. Love is like a kryptonite that weakens our defenses unmercifully so when it comes to love and being in love. So when this smoldering lesbian romance, despite rave reviews was snubbed by the Academy and denied France’s Oscar nomination, it literally was not only surprising, but mind-boggling for me at best.
Set in 18th-century Brittany, Portrait of a Lady on Fire follows Marianne (Noémie Merlant), an artist commissioned by an Italian noblewoman (Valeria Golino) to paint a portrait of her reclusive daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), who is soon to be betrothed.
The peculiar conditions of this assignment, however, require that Marianne never reveal to Héloïse that her sole purpose to observe her as a means to recreate likeness on canvas. Héloïse is to believe that Marianne ‘s presence is to solely be a companion for conversational walks.
Dissatisfied with her initial portrait, Marianne petitions for a second chance then confesses the ruse to Héloïse, receiving her cooperation to pose for the said portrait and allowing the women to forge a passionately intimate bond.
Gorgeously captured by cinematographer Claire Mathon, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a slow burn film of glances, touch and emotional engagement, as the ladies discuss the purposes of art and life all the while building their love soft from a smoldering spark to a full on blaze. The double entendre’s cinematically infused with just the word fire are absolutely fascinating. Meaning, fire can mean a blue blaze of emotion, a literal fire or a fire that can only be extinguished with the coolness of waterer the softness of a woman.
Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are absolute exquisite to watch. The less they say, the more intriguing their relationship becomes and I was there for all of it. Kudos to Director Céline Sciamma for bring such beautifully crafted story to screen with taste, class and grace. A study from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that women made up 34 percent of all speaking characters in 2019 films. Hopefully, while opening around the US this week and distributed by Neon, Portrait of a Lady on Fire hitting screens on Valentine’s Day will squash the trend of muting women’s voices on-screen.