Portrait of a Lady on Fire | Chicago Reader
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Portrait of a Lady on Fire

With her coming-of-age trilogy of Water Lilies, Tomboy, and Girlhood, Céline Sciamma is unmatched in terms of telling dynamic queer stories. Sciamma’s most recent feature, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, is the culmination of sapphic filmmaking set aflame. Set in 18th-century France, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to paint the portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) before she is to be married. Marianne must paint Héloïse in secret as she’s uncertain about her marriage and her future, so she quietly observes her day in and day out, forging an intimate bond that cannot be ignored. Portrait of a Lady on Fire not only understands the depths of first love, but also the yearning and repressed desire that comes with love that has so often been considered unworthy or illegitimate. Claire Mathon’s cinematography is a standout, as is the film’s understated yet deeply powerful performances. It’s a slow burn, sure, but the embers are remarkable. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a refreshingly modern period piece that begs for a brave new world of lesbian cinema.

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