Watching Resolution: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

1. A foreign film: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

List Progress: 8/12 (+7)

I had heard so many good things about last year’s historical drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but I didn’t realize until after I watched it that this is the third film I’ve seen by director Céline Sciamma. I watched the animated My Life as a Zucchini just a few weeks ago, and I watched her 2011 film Tomboy back in college. Sciamma has a very lush and stylistic way of making movies, a style that seems very quintessentially French. It takes some time to become immersed in her films, especially here in Portrait, but once you let go of an expectation of realism, it takes you away to some lovely places.

Eighteenth century heiress Heloise is about to be married off to a man she has never met, and her mother hires artist Marianne to paint her portrait to be sent to her match for his approval. Heloise is resisting the marriage and had rejected a previous painter, so Marianne must pretend to be a hired companion and paint her in secret from memory. The two develop a bond and eventual love, while still being forced to live within their circumstances.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an incredibly female film, with only a few lines of dialogue from male characters in the entire runtime. The relationship between Heloise and Marianne is lovely, but I found myself even more drawn to their friendship with the housemaid Sophie. There is a sense of community on their island home, like it is a place out of time, and the gentleman from Milan will be an intrusion, no matter who he is as a person. A group of women singing around a fire at night, a woman posing herself in a gown to serve as her own model, a woman painting the figures of one woman performing an abortion for another, everything is rendered with beauty and respect for these moments. Not to say that all women in the film are perfect: Heloise’s convent upbringing was incredibly strict and her mother is the one forcing her into marriage. But there is a place in this film for women to exist on their own terms, which is beautiful and rare.

As a female artist in a relationship with another female artist myself, we ended up being floored by some of the dynamics of Subject and Object, who makes art and who is made into art. I can see why this movie has taken off so much, and while it took me a while to get into the world, I am so glad I did.

Would I Recommend It: Yes.

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