Portrait Of A Lady On Fire is an apt example of how powerful and pure a film can be as an artform. How bewildering, bewitching and genuinely affecting it is to transport a random viewer into this mysterious, exquisite world of two queer lovers, and to be in complete amalgamation with their secret desires and feelings. Rarely it happens that, that you feel what they feel, and be what they are. It is one such rarest of rare case.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
Director: Céline Sciamma
Cast: Adèle Haenel, Noémie Merlant, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino, Armande Boulanger
This film, is capable of conveying emotions, love, through subtlest of means; through secret glances, and through subtle movements of eyes, through the sound of leaves, the sound of sea, and strokes on piano, and through desperate heavy sighs, and through gentlest of hugs and through long shared silences in a very desolate place. It is breathtaking filmmaking, a highest peak this medium can ever possibly hope to reach.
It is even more difficult to comprehend that how an artist, can be so powerful, authoritative and in such a perfect control of something she creates. It is an exceptional example of human imagination and of the power of such imagination to create remarkable art. Unreasonably jealous, though I am, can’t resist from stating that, if I ever be able to achieve even a tiniest fraction of what Céline Sciamma has done through her film, I will be infinitely joyous and my content will know no bounds.
The story is of two distant and visibly distinct people meeting by fate, falling in love(though love seems quite a generic term to describe what happens between the two), and its eventual outcome. These two are totally different people, one is independent, have been to foreign countries, have an independent profession, which is exceptional in its time; the other, have narrower boundaries, she can’t choose, she is trapped, like a bird in a cage.
The former, Marianne(Noémie Merlant), is a parisian painter, who got a gig for painting Héloïse(Adèle Haenel), from her aristocratic mother. Because, Héloïse don’t want to get married, the mother wishes that Marianne must paint her without Héloïse knowing and secretly studying her features. The painting is to go to a noble man in Italy, to whom the mother wants her daughter to get married.
The secret glances Marianne gives, in order to understand the features of Héloïse’s face and figure, to paint them later on, are not quite welcomed by Héloïse. But the same glances she was so resistant to earlier are now glances of love, mutual understanding and of untold confidence on each other. Much is said without words, even when they are used, they are cautious, but creating even more great effect and making them closer than ever before.
There are no words of explaining, justifying or confessing their love to each other. For they know their mutual feelings, and know the end will come, they know the fate of their infatuation as well; the society and period they live in, would not allow, there is not even a question of acceptance by the society either, it isn’t just possible. So instead, they dont talk much but gaze, directly piercing into the souls of each other, not an intense piercing gaze, but a gaze of melancholic happiness of being in company of each other. And it is strongest of happiness and the strongest regret, the regret from the anticipation of eventual end of being together.
The film as an artform, being one of the very few medium which incorporates nearly all or many of the arts which exist; visual, music, painting, sometimes even theatrical art, and of course the art of making a film is in itself quite diverse and have its own many things: editing, costumes, production, lighting and writing; this film incorporates nearly all of this to create something which is monumental and iconic. The absence of music throughout makes the rare moments of music mysterious, hypnotic and even takes us into other world. It might seem overstating, but the particular scene around the bonfire, where women sing kind of an hymn is one of the moments of music being used to its highest possible effect. And the one in the very end, Vivaldi, creates the same amount of effect.
Surely, it doesn’t seems an easy film to make at all. But the film looks so effortless, full of magical flow, it seems too good to be true. And technicalities seem concealed. You forget about them. It looks like some outwardly reality, delicate and of its own rules, nature and inward conventions. The faces radiate lush bright light in the dark, giving them mysterious qualities, the mansion, and a little island on which it rests are breathtaking to look at, the beaches as well, and the air, you feel it on your face. The costumes not overdone and are realistic. The film is perfect in every sense. A monumental film and a modern classic. There will hardly be such a unique experience for me. It is breathtaking, exquisite, authentic, flawless and immaculate to the core.