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Portrait of a Lady on Fire (15)
August 13th 3:00 pm
Artist Marianne is hired to paint a portrait of eligible aristocrat Héloïse in secret – all to try to impress a wealthy suitor into marrying Héloïse. But while Marianne spends time with her subject, memorising how she looks and getting to know her, the two women begin to fall for each other. Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel and Valeria Golino star in this story about forbidden love, directed by Céline Sciamma.
Marianne (Noémie Merlant) earns her keep as a painter in late 18th century France, which is why she finds herself travelling to a remote island near Brittany for a commission. Only, this job is different. She has to paint the portrait of her subject, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), in secret.
Héloïse’s portrait is to be sent to a rich nobleman from Milan, so that he can decide if he wants to marry her. But Héloïse doesn’t want to marry and has thwarted previous artists’ attempts to paint her. So, for this commission, requested by Héloïse’s mother, Marianne has been instructed to pretend just to be her walking companion by day while going away to paint her at night.
But while Marianne gets to know Héloïse, the two start to develop feelings for one another. Has Marianne got the strength to complete the portrait that Héloïse doesn’t know about and to deal with the fact that the two might soon be separated forever?
Running time: 1hr 59mins
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Everyone is haunted by one thing or another, a painting perhaps
more probably a piece of music or a remembered smile.
We carry all kind of things within us, something a loved person may have spoken or
written--good or bad. Haunted occurrences come to us in dreams, a time in
the day when we go through a door into another world, peopled by the benign or transcendentally
In the theatre or the cinema, ghosts arise in a dozen ways from Elvira in Noel Coward's
"Blithe Spirit" to the ghosts of those he murdered which return to haunt him in Shakespeare's "Richard The Third".
"The Ghost and Mrs Muir" once attracted fans of Rex Harrison in the 1940, while a few
years earlier Robert Donat had made his mark in the 1930s crowd-pleaser "The Ghost Goes West".
French film maker Celine Sciamma has revived the revenant tradition ( just for a moment, I accept
that, but what a highly significant moment nevertheless) in her new film "Portrait Of A Lady On Fire"
which ought to take any Oscars going this year, but may well risk being overlooked in favour of the home-grown product!
The film is richly beautiful in the current tradition of exploring the female space.
Set towards the close of the 18th century in a petit-bourgeois mansion along a sea-coast somewhere in Northern France (my spies suggest
Sciamma chose Brittany as her mise-en-scene) the film tells the shadowy tale of Marianne, a young French
portraitiste who arrives to paint the likeness of Lady Heloise in what is to become a betrothal portrait.
Marianne begins the earty sketches and Heloise is not accomodating, but Marianne is courteous
The women move into the open-air, Marianne is working over in her gaze, the contours of Heloise's face.
Suddenly in the studio, it .happens, a long kiss follows the discovery of love,
as her feelings for Marianne take over.
The finished portrait shows Heloise's newly-discovered warmth and maturity, something which does not escape the chatelaine's hawk eye.
There is no vulgarity, no Hollywood crudity here, sensual physicality is set against the sounds of a house, crackling logs, the slam of a door ,the sullen bump of a cider mug on a table or the clicking of heels along a passage, and always the eternal crash of the waves as the women sink down wth each other.
But the relationship deepens. The chatelaine leaves for Italy and negotiations with the young man's family. Marianne and Heloise take
the opportunity to deepen the thing they have become,lovers, with physical intensity Heloise may well not find in her forthcoming marriage--if at all,
since this is a mariage de convenance purely to join money to money.
Marianne is finally paid off coldly and leaves. Earlier she had experienced a ghastly vision of Heloise in her wedding dress, it becomes an
omen signifying the end of the affair and the happiness of the women.
In later years, Marianne glimpses Heloise--now with a young son at her side--in an opera box (a perfect touch)---but Heloise sits alone and unaware, time has moved on--but Marianne registers the tragedy in her beautiful eyes, while Heloise brims over awith tearss the onstage singer touches her heart with a sad lament. They cannot meet, that time is gone.
The film is the finest piece of modern film-making I have seen for years and it concluded a splendid film festival, which gave its visitors a banquet of rare movies. Long may
Borderlines Film Festival 2000 continue to flourish, and thus I welcome it back in 2021.