Hailed at the Cannes Film Festival, Céline Sciamma’s newest movie is one of those that soaks the eye and the heart. Let’s go back to this burning drama that could have won the Palme d’Or.

By Marine Bohin

Reading time 4 min.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire


Fantastic fantasy
Five years after Girl Hood, a naturalist dive into a violent suburb, director Céline Sciamma returns with Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a delicate sapphic romance. The fighting heroines singing Rihanna in single-sequence shot and who were selling pot at the foot of the buildings are over : we focus here on the forbidden passion between a painter and his model during the Victorian era.

More than a love story between two women, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a fictional movie that blurs the boundaries of gender.

Very visual, the movie could be an academic painting, that some may find boring, but it takes the viewer by surprise distilling here and there a few codes of the fantastic cinema. Adèle Haenel opens her big black eyes in a course of a love scene, Noémie Merlant is haunted by ghosts appearing at the corner of a door. The scene, dreamy as hell, in which a dress ignites, will mark all the spirits. From its assumed slowness, a little annoying during the first 30 minutes, the movie ends up weaving a hypnotic language, which perfectly accompanies the rise of desire between her two heroines.

The movie ends up weaving
a hypnotic language

A women’s movie
At the end of the screening, we are asking ourselves where the male characters are. Don’t look for them : there are none. The few men who cross the screen are extras and they don’t speak. A great way to bounce back, in a time when, despite all the signaling signals send by women in the profession, equality is far from being achieved : a large majority of French movies are staging male main characters around which women gravitate in the secondary roles.

Also addressed subtly in the movie, forced marriage, illegal abortion, the status of the female artist … Many themes that remind us that the struggles of yesterday are unfortunately still relevant today.

During its first screening at the Grand Théâtre Louis Lumière, Portrait of a Lady on Fire was acclaimed by the audience and received a ten minutes standing ovation, in front of the cast and crew – exclusively female, very moved.

In this post-Weinstein era where everything is questioned, it would have been worthy that Céline Sciamma won the Palme d’Or, she would have become the second women to be awarded the Palme d’Or and the first French female director to receive this distinction.

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