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Portrait of a Lady on Fire (15)
13th March 2020 - 15th March 2020
New from French filmmaker Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies, Tomboy, Girlhood) comes an enigmatic historical romance.
At the end of the 18th century, artist Marianne is commissioned to paint a betrothal portrait of a young woman, Lady Héloïse. Knowing that Héloïse resists marriage, Marianne disguises herself as a lady’s companion in order to gain her subject’s trust; only to find herself inadvertently falling in love with her. A subversively seductive love story, Portrait… sees Sciamma explore the qualities of female-only spaces and the power of the female gaze, as the two women grapple with a society that prohibits not only sexual and emotional bonds between them, but more widely the control of their own artistry, bodies and lives. Both erotic and cerebral, bold and restrained, it marks a new phase in Sciamma’s filmmaking.
Director: Céline Sciamma
Starring: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino
France, 2019, 1 hour 59 minutes
Best Screenplay and Queer Palm, Cannes Film Festival 2019
Nominated for Film Not in the English Language BAFTA
To see the full Borderlines 2020 schedule, please click HERE.
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.