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PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Celine Sciamma

Produced by: Veronique Cayla, Benedicte Couvreur

Written by: Celine Sciamma

Cast: Noemie Merlant, Adele Haenel, Luana Bajrami, Valeria Golino

Cinematography: Claire Mathon

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



I haven’t seen any of Celine Sciamma’s previous films, but based on the romantic drama, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), she is a filmmaker of formidable power and vision. I believe this is her fourth feature film directorial release and it is as sumptuous, moving, exquisitely shot and constructed a love story as you are going to witness. Moreover, it is proof that the art of screenwriting, compared to many by-the-numbers Hollywood film productions, is NOT dead.

The story is very simple. At the end of the 18th century, a young painter, Marianne, (Noemie Merlant) is commissioned to create a portrait of a young woman, Heloise (Adele Haenel). Heloise is, as is the tradition of the time, required by her mother (Valeria Golino), to marry a Milanese nobleman. He needs to see the portrait in advance in order to agree to the wedding. The only catch is, the insular Heloise, does not want to be painted for all manner of understandable reasons. What this establishes is two very intriguing characters, both with different emotions and desires.



Following the beautifully rendered story foundation, what follows is a magnetic series of scenes which subtly push these two empathetic characters together. Marianne is the artist who, at first keeps her distance, spying and analysing Heloise. Heloise is cool, sensitive and a prisoner on the Brittany island, trapped by the waves of the sea and her mother’s insistence on a society wedding. Over the space of a few days the walking companions become drawn to each other both artistically and emotionally. But, it’s no sordid desire for lust, rather a respectful and honest joining in romance. We, as the audience, literally see love grow before us thanks to some incredible acting from the leads.

Often the cinema critics will heap praise on a film and I will wonder what they have been watching. However, in regard to both Parasite (2019) and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), the plaudits are so well deserved. Both are brilliantly written and shot works of cinema, that in the past may have been consigned to just the arthouse circuit. Further, given the film is about painting, it is unsurprisingly Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) is framed, lit and composed with an eye for the artistic. Yet, it isn’t just the look and colour of the film that impresses. Sciamma and her cinematographer, Claire Mathon, also create a series of haunting shots which will be indelibly scorched on my mind.

In terms of the themes, the film is very powerful too. As well the notion of art as a means of representing love, the narrative explores concepts of female equality and solidarity. There is an interesting subplot involving a member of the household staff, which adds to the thematic texture. Furthermore, the performances by all the actresses are superb too as Sciamma directs with such confidence. I also liked that the critique of patriarchal society was implicit rather than didactic. Also subtly realised are the tasteful love scenes, which never feel exploitational. My only minor criticism is that the opening hour could, arguably, have been trimmed slightly. However, what do you leave out of a film as beautifully composed, delicately written and emotionally compelling as Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)? I, a mere mortal, am not qualified to say in the face of such mesmerizing cinema.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11



FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #4 – JACK & DANNY (2008) short film by Paul Laight

FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #4 – JACK & DANNY (2008)

TWO COPS. ONE DILEMMA!

Another indulgent look back on works of yesteryear and Fix Films 4th short movie was a cheeky comedic chamber piece starring two excellent actors Chris Crocker and Phil Wolff. Technically speaking it’s very lo-fi with basic sound, natural lighting and a simple story of two cops on a stakeout chewing the fat over a possible adultery. In some ways it is more of a first draft film demo and was not intended for festivals and competitions. However,  there is much to enjoy.

“And you wanted to extend that bone to her sister.” – JACK

Our intention was not to make another short as Gary was in the midst of post-production on Elephant Trunk (2008), but for reasons which elude me that was taking a while. Then we needed some urgent dialogue re-recorded with Chris, thus, I came up with the idea of shooting a quick short over a few hours AND getting the dialogue done at the same time. My flatmate had just moved out too so I had a free room too.

2009_jack_danny_still_1

The idea came from an internet story which was doing the email rounds in the office and was called The Love Test. The characters are clearly archetypes seen on a thousand cops and robber shows but as I say we were going for direct and simple here. Phil played Jack, a jaded older cop who “coaches” the younger more sensitive Chris on the nature of what is or isn’t infidelity.  Safe to say his advice isn’t particularly sage-like. This, the opposition of the characters and chemistry between the two actors is what drives the comedy.

“Love is natures’ way of conning you into the act of pro-creation!” – JACK

Looking back it’s certainly a funny script with great performances from Chris and Phil and it shows that with a couple of decent actors, some funny characters and a single room you can make something worthwhile.  I had a lot of fun writing and filming this with the director Gary and cast. What it lacks in technical gloss it makes up with in humour, performance and some humorous lines. Here is the film: