Portrait of a Lady on Fire
(Dir: Céline Sciamma / France / 2019)
Grieving for the death of her sister, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) has returned from a convent to her home in Brittany; her mother (Valerie Golino), a widowed Italian noblewoman, has engaged Marianne (Noémie Merlant), an artist, to surreptitiously paint Héloïse’s portrait while acting on the pretence that she is to be a companion to the bereaved young woman. Previous painters have failed in the commission as Héloïse has refused to pose, aware the picture will be sent to the Milanese man to whom she has been betrothed by her mother, without introduction, and consequently Marianne must capture her likeness covertly. The two women gradually connect, and a subtle seduction of stolen glances, touches and conversation gives way to burning desire. Céline Sciamma’s delicate, beautifully acted fourth feature explores what it means to see, and to truly be seen.