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Ciné Sunday: Portrait of a Lady on Fire
(Portrait de la jeune fille en feu)

Céline Sciamma

Winner of both the Queer Palm and Best Screenplay awards at last year's Cannes Film Festival, this fourth feature from French writer-director Céline Sciamma (Tomboy, Girlhood) is an exquisite and delicate portrait of hidden love, the power of the creative process, and the sensuality of the gaze.

"An exquisite and delicate portrait of hidden love..."

Set in 18th century Brittany, Portrait of a Lady on Fire follows Marianne (Noémie Merlant), an artist commissioned by an Italian noblewoman (Valeria Golino) to paint a portrait of her reclusive daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), who is soon to be married. There are unusual conditions of this assignment, however, and Marianne must never tell Héloïse the objective of her visit. Instead, she will escort the young woman on walks, posing as a hired companion while closely observing her subject so as to render her likeness on canvas in secret at night. Dissatisfied with her initial portrait, Marianne pleads with her patroness for a second chance. Marianne then confesses the ruse to Héloïse, enlisting her cooperation and allowing the women to forge a much closer bond – one that will lead to a passionate intimacy and deep connection that will change their lives forever.

Gorgeously captured by cinematographer Claire Mathon (Stranger by the Lake), Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a slow burn in which every word, every glance, and every touch holds the promise of undiscovered tenderness. The film engages the emotions and the intellect in tandem, as our heroines discuss the purposes of art and life while their love builds from a spark to a blaze. Sciamma uses this stirring love story to apprehend what it means to truly see – and to truly be seen.