Céline Sciamma, France
On a remote island in Brittany in 18th century France, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), has been tasked with painting a wedding portrait. While the journey to the island was perilous, she is presented with a more difficult task by her patron, a wealthy Italian noblewoman (Valeria Golino). The noblewoman’s daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is to be the subject of the portrait, but she has no interest in getting married and refuses to be painted. Marianne must act as a companion and in her free moments find a way to paint Héloïse without her knowledge. However, as the days go by, the two women grow closer, and Marianne struggles with her task.
PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIREis a film to be savored. It is a masterpiece on multiple levels, with its technical achievements being perfectly on par with excellent performances by the cast and the subtle and profound screenplay. At the fore is the historical tragedy of women who have no autonomy in their lives. There is the struggle of Héloïse who is being married off to a stranger, a situation to which she has no say. The young maid Sophie (Luàna Bajrami) must find a way to abort her pregnancy lest she lose her financial and societal security. Even Marianne, who has the most freedom of the women, only has this privilege due to her father’s fame as a painter, and even she must live at the mercy of patrons and with the knowledge that her own work is attributed to her father. The forbidden love that occurs between Héloïse and Marianne is merely the final note to this tragedy, because both are well aware that they do not have control over their own lives. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIREis a deliberate, nuanced film, which continues to impress long after the credits finish and well deserves the recognition it continues to receive throughout the festival circuit.