Director Céline Sciamma became the first woman to win the Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival this week with her lesbian-themed period piece Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu). Sciamma (whose previous films Water Lilies, Tomboy, and Girlhood earned critical acclaim) and Portrait of a Lady on Fire beat out heavy hitters including Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory, Ira Sachs’s Frankie, Arnaud Desplechin’s Oh Mercy! and the big-budget Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher) to win the award, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Period pieces about queer women have proliferated over the past few years with films like Carol, The Favourite, Colette, Lizzie, Wild Nights With Emily, Tell It to the Bees, and the upcoming Vita and Virginia and the Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan starrer Ammonite. Meanwhile, HBO's period piece Gentleman Jack, about the woman who considered to be the first "modern lesbian," has been wowing audiences.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which has already secured North American distribution from Neon and Hulu, stars Noémie Merlant (Heaven Will Wait) as Marianne, an artist commissioned to paint a portrait of Adèle Haenel’s reluctant bride-to-be Héloïse, without the subject knowing she’s being painted, according to IndieWire. As the two women spend time together, they grow increasingly close.
"The jury was struck by the director’s artistic mastering and deeply touched by the vision she brings upon artistic creation, [the] blazing heart of this film. We were also greatly moved by the sorority that inhabits this remarkable work: from the characters’ fate to the actresses achievement as well as the technical and artistic crew," the jury — made up of directors Claire Duguet, Marcio Reolon, Filipe Matzembacher, and comedian Kee-Yoon Kim — said about the film.
“It’s an exquisitely beautiful and contemplative chamber drama about the agonies of forbidden desire and the consolations of art, and particularly the mystery of how an artist’s gaze shapes — and is shaped in turn by — its subject,” Justin Chang wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
Sciamma became the first woman to win the Queer Palm prize, but Portrait of a Lady on Fire is not the only film about queer women to win the award. Todd Haynes won for Carol in 2015 and Sébastien Lifshitz won in 2016 for the nonfiction film The Lives of Thérèse. Other Queer Palm winners include Gregg Araki's Kaboom in 2010, Alain Guiraudie's Stranger by the Lake in 2013, and Robin Campillo's 2017 film BPM.
Watch a scene from Portrait of a Lady on Fire below.