Period pieces that involve queer female love stories have abounded on the big screen in recent years, with films including Colette, The Favourite, and Vita & Virginia. Now acclaimed director Céline Sciamma (Tomboy, Girlhood) has delivered a film that’s garnered critical kudos at festivals in Cannes, Telluride, and Toronto. This spring, the movie was awarded the Queer Palm award at Cannes. Now the trailer is out and telegraphs just what a stunning piece of art it appears to be.
The synopsis for the French film from Neon reads:
“In 18th century France a young painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) without her knowing. Therefore, Marianne must observe her model by day to paint her portrait at night. Day by day, the two women become closer as they share Héloïse’s last moments of freedom before the impending wedding.”
Previous films about forbidden same-gender love have used stolen glances and long-held looks to great advantage to build tension, as was the case with Carol. But the plot of Sciamma’s film, in which one woman must study the face of another in order to replicate her likeness, is a next-level kind of gaze.
The film has so much built-up buzz that Indiewire has already named it one of the best films of the decade.
“Céline Sciamma’s most perfect and powerful film to date came as something of a curveball when it premiered at Cannes earlier this year,” Indiewire senior film critic David Ehrlich wrote. “Austere where Tomboy was anxious, and hesitant where Girlhood was rash, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is the first of Sciamma’s movies that could be described as ‘classical’ in any sense of the word. While all of her earlier offerings have told profound and tender stories of self-discovery and the images that women project, this film is more concerned with the ones they leave behind, and how stunning they can be when they aren’t forced through male filters.”
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is in theaters December 6.