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Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu

1770: Marianna, a rare professional female painter, is commissioned to paint a portrait of a young woman for her soon-to-be husband.

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Dir-Scr Céline Sciamma
Prod Bénédicte Couvreur
With Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami
Certificate 15
UK Distribution Curzon

If ever there was an immaculate study of lesbian desire this is it. Sciamma’s masterful transubstantiation of the male gaze into that of the female inhabits the lives of four 18th century women: a countess attempting to marry off her daughter, Héloïse, who refuses to sit for a wedding portrait; Marianna, employed as a ‘walking companion’ but tasked with painting Héloïse on the sly; and their servant, whose man troubles reveal a fascinating underworld of female medicine. But it is the burning attraction between Héloïse and Marianna that launches Sciamma’s fourth feature into a different stratosphere. This is a gothic tale of what it means to see and be seen, contrasting the repressive portraiture of gender with the passionate, intimate world of women.

Jay Bernard

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