Winner of both the Queer Palm and Best Screenplay awards at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the fourth feature from French writer-director Céline Sciamma (TIFF ’14’s Girlhood) is an exquisite portrait of hidden love, art, eros… and the gaze.
Set in 18th-century Brittany, Portrait of a Lady on Fire follows Marianne (Noémie Merlant), an artist commissioned by an Italian noblewoman (Valeria Golino) to paint a portrait of her reclusive daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel, also at the Festival in Deerskin), who is soon to be married.
The peculiar conditions of this assignment, however, require that Marianne never announce to Héloïse the objective of her visit. Instead, Marianne is to escort Héloïse on walks, posing as a hired companion while closely observing her subject so as to render her likeness on canvas in secret.
Dissatisfied with her initial portrait, Marianne petitions her patroness for a second chance. Marianne then confesses the ruse to Héloïse, procuring her cooperation and allowing the women to forge a much closer bond — one that will lead to a passionate intimacy.