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Portrait of a Lady on Fire


Year: 2019 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: It is expected that this film is fully subtitled. 
Directed by Céline Sciamma 
Starring: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami  
An image from Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Released as recently as 2019, but already a certified classic in the queer film canon, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a truly unique and profound movie. In 18th century France, a painter, Marianne, is hired to paint the portrait of the soon-to-be-married reclusive and mysterious aristocrat Héloïse, but she must do so secretly, as the lady refuses to pose for paintings.

Every frame of this film is bursting with a deep and profound sense of longing. Unlike most modern romances you’ll see, this is not a tale of grand romantic gestures or fairytale weddings. Rather, the relationship is told through brief touches, lingering glances, and slow walks on the beach, as both women struggle to reconcile their feelings for one another. Quintessentially queer, the film showcases a unique kind of forbidden love that is underscored by a heart-breaking mutual understanding of each-other’s positions. But despite the viewer’s identity, I’m sure most anyone can relate to the experience of falling for someone and feeling like you’re crafting a metaphorical portrait of them in your mind just by observing from a far, a version of them that might not be true, but one you can’t help but fall in love with. Entrancing and meditative, this film, much like its titular portrait, might be a slow-burn, but the flames shine oh-so bright.

Edvard Gaters

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Screenings of this film:

2022/2023 Spring Term (digital)