Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

Céline Sciamma’s Filmography

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is Céline Sciamma’s fourth film after Water Lilies, Tomboy, and Girlhood. Each of her films explores the awakening of strange experiences and sensations among young women in their teens. She also often explores contemporary stories set in Paris. The film won the 2019 Queer Palm and Best Screenplay awards at the Cannes Film Festival. Indeed, the film being the first-period work of a French writer-director, Sciamma nevertheless made it with all the ceremonial acumen and airiness of a master.

As if she has taken knowledge from many directors such as James Ivory and Jane Campion. Sciamma opens the film with Marianne, a young painter. She travels to an island in Brittany. Although it is also a film about classic portraiture in its use of bright highlights and earth tones, Marianne is independent and strong-willed. On the rowboat, a crate filled with her stretched canvas fell overboard into the white-covered waters.

She jumped to follow them, emphasizing passion as a trading worker was increasing. After she arrived at the plantation where she was going to paint, Marianne dried her naked body by the fire while smoking a pipe. In short, the film is a reference story to a strange 18th-century romance.

Archetypes of Gender Dynamics

Although our passions cannot compel our views, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is about how appearances can be dangerous. The characters discuss and read a myth at one point after the implications. Thus, Sciamma reinterpreted it in a painting. Despite the heart-wrenching twists, she uses the myth in informing her film’s discussions about the act of seeing, desire, and art. Inevitably, Sciamma found an alternative source of conflict.

She defies the conventions of social hierarchy, sexual pursuits, roles of power, and gender dynamics. Within it, she also found a balance between Héloïse and Marianne. Common archetypes of gender roles often change according to factors like occupation, class, strata, and identity. However, the tension that so often builds up between the straight pairs has less of a chance.

It aims to bring up two men or two women. In addition, Héloïse and Marianne played such elements. First, Marianne pretended to be submissive as a lover or employee. Likewise, Héloïse is an artist who excels at not observing objects. Even so, Marianne is an employee and an artist. A job assigned to her, regardless, in the end, her position comes from a family with a certain status. At first, it is also true when Héloïse has become comfortable as Marianne’s subject herself.

The Male Gaze

Therefore, both create art as a unit and act as models and artists. At a specific moment, Marianne is rendering Sophie’s abortion, helping her have an abortion; Héloïse announces that they will paint. However, both assist Sophie in staging their positions for Marianne. After the countess commissions Marianne to paint her princess’s portrait, she arranges a marriage between a Milanese man and her princess.

Indeed, she had agreed to a partner on the condition that she liked and saw Héloïse’s portrait. Otherwise, Héloïse’s sister commits suicide after getting engaged to the same man. Rather than submit to the marriage, Héloïse refuses to play the gaze where the male portrait painter had previously failed to leave the estate. Out of the blue, Marianne pretends to act as a temporary escort for Héloïse’s sake.

She painted her later, making sketches, glancing sideways. When they are together, she will admit to her secret plan whereby the two develop a secret romance. It grows when the countess is away for a day or so. She left them on an island, with Sophie accompanying them as well. The reveal is a love story that is taboo in their society.

Spatial Context

Portrait of a Lady on Fire exudes thrilling equality and freedom in the isolation and spatial context of the film. Sciamma explores how unequal and non-reciprocal relationships are one of the problems in the paradigm of love between men and women. When inequality becomes a feminist problem, we cannot separate it from the thoughts that patriarchal culture dominates. Such movements seek to change stereotypes so that feminists continue to carry out intellectual discussions on the culture.

Thus, the struggle has a vision of equalizing the positions of men and women. Indeed, Sciamma is a feminist director. We know that her films are not studded with dialogue, apart from containing a fair amount of campaigns of anarchism and elements of criticism against patriarchal culture since ancient times. Instead, James Cameron’s Titanic became a source of ideas and inspiration from Sciamma herself, making her compose a classic love story.

However, it secretly carries a radical impression of class and gender politics. As Marianne contemplated Héloïse’s equal, the early portrait remains unsatisfactory; it is a product of classical portraiture’s ideas, conventions, and rules. Such a dictate on equality between the two characters disputes much of what we understand of power; thus, artists have in having representation.

Embodiment of Subject

Thus, Marianne will “like” her subject. So, she can’t send her portraits in current conditions. When Héloïse asks Marianne if she sees herself again, Marianne destroys it to start over. In their growing love and respect, Marianne renounces traditions of possession and representation in embracing mutual gazes and attraction. Yet, we can see her creative power and gaze on the canvas that both parties have agreed on.

Although precipitated in a forbidden romance, usual understanding and solidarity ignore a notion of belonging in any form. Regardless of the memories they have of each other, relationship status to material possessions will continue to settle. However, what will happen to the oppressed embodiment of women? In short, patriarchal culture begins a history of oppression of women with negative stigmatization of women’s bodies.

When patriarchal values have attached to women’s bodies, then in the process of socialization, people will accept the spread of myths into various social institutions. Such folk tales can take the form of women’s complexities or females’ irrationality. Portrait of a Lady on Fire eschews the grotesque stereotypes and male perspective we usually find in cinema. As striking as the balance between Héloïse and Marianne, Sciamma’s scenario acknowledges the ruling patriarchy.

Expressing Reality

Whether in the brief appearance of the boatman transporting Marianne to the island or Héloïse’s fate with the Milanese nobility, the men’s social power over women remains a reality. However, most of the film takes place away from its direct enforcement. For such reason, no male appears in the frame. Especially in period cuts, the usual role for queer characters as doomed characters or figures who are just dabbling in gays also has no place in Sciamma films.

In addition, there is an idyllic yet sensual equation that Sciamma shares between Héloïse and Marianne. They have relatively the same beauty and height. However, they also belong to the same class strata. It creates harmony between them. In a very emotional final scene, Héloïse and Marianne attend a live orchestra performance. Their equal grades meant they could sit in boxes across from each other in the auditorium.

Even if Héloïse doesn’t know it, it allows Marianne to watch Héloïse in the moments they share. In another sequence, Marianne starts drawing Héloïse again after she receives criticism from Héloïse for her work. Instead of getting going to collaborate in the process, both did not do it in a standard way. Apart from spending time together, they express who they are.

Understanding Equality

Such a simple form implies growing loyalty and love for each other. Spontaneously, Héloïse and Marianne as a painter and her muse and as lovers, their relationship became equal. Héloïse told Marianne that equality is a nice feeling. The film depicts women’s liberties. Based on the system that applies in society, Héloïse, Marianne, and even Sophie celebrate individuality and oppose the apparatus.

They still control and limit the lives of the women who are the main characters. When Marianne’s father determined Marianne’s career to be an artist, it was showing her paintings in an exhibition. She also had to use her father’s name. Alternately, Marianne and Héloïse find freedom in love for each other based on understanding, equality, and agreement. The relationship they live in plays a way of liberation in each of them.

Sciamma has made rich films with parallels and symbolism in various forms of cinema, music, painting, literature, and art. The film is a celebration of artistic representation, tradition, and alternatives. In other words, it is a strange proof of love. People trapped Héloïse and Marianne in roles; they become mandate but share personal freedom in mutual affection.

Study of Sensuality

While the push and pull always works, it has less of a presence in the film than we might expect. Sciamma’s careful study of such a relationship resonates with sensuality and emotion, becoming a film that acknowledges the limits of reality even as she finds ultimate freedom in her character’s longings. Both formally and philosophically, she has constructed Portrait of a Lady on Fire with considerable attention to detail.

Like Héloïse and Marianne, she eschews typical representational and romantic modes. Instead of falling short of traditional costume dramas with melodramatic plots or grand scores, visually, there’s a beautiful but understandable sense of light at work. It was as if Sciamma had captured the moisture in the air with an illumination substance itself.


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