Fiery women

Welcomed with a standing ovation during last Cannes Festival,
Céline Sciamma’s latest movie is one of those that leave lasting marks
on your eyes and in your heart.
Going back on this burning drama that should have won the Palme D’Or.

 By Marine Bohin

Reading time 4 min.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire


Five years after Girlhood, a naturalist dive into a violent suburb, the director Celine Sciamma comes back with Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a delicate sapphic romance. No more fighting heroines, singing Rihanna in long shots and selling weed on the blocks : here we are looking at the forbidden love between a painter and her model in Victorian times. More than a love story between two women, it is a fiction that blurs the lines between genres…

By being very pictural, the movie could be a painting where the academism is easily boring, but it takes the viewer by surprise with hints at fantastic cinema distilled here and there. Adèle Haenel opens entirey black eyes during a love scene, Noémie Merlant is haunted by ghosts of her past appearing behind doors… The devilishly dreamlike scene in which a dress bursts into flames will leave its mark. From it’s owned up slowness —which can be slightly annoying in the first 30 minutes —the movies ends up weaving a hypnotic languor, that perfectly fits the arising desire between the two heroines.

The movie weaves
a hypnotic languor

A women movie
At the end of the screening, we found ourselves wondering where were the masculine characters. Don’t look for them : except for the composers of the soundtrack (whose interview you can find here ) there are none. The few men appearing on screen are extras, mute. A beautiful way of raising the bar during a time where the alarm has been pound by many women in the profession. Equality is far from being reached : the majority of French movies put men in the forefront, with a few secondary female characters gravitating around them.

The movie also talks with subtlety about forced marriage, clandestine abortion, the status of a women artist… So many themes that remind us that past struggles are sadly still present nowadays. During its first screening in the Grand Théâtre Louis Lumière, Portrait of a Lady on Fire was acclaimed by the public, who stood up for a 10-minutes-long standing ovation, in front of the moved  —exclusively female— team. In this era of post-Weinstein reconsideration, Céline Sciamma deserved to be the second female director to receive the Palme d’Or, and the first French female director to earn this prize. She had to settle for the prize for best scenario.

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