‘Portrait Of A Lady On Fire’ speaks its own kind of quiet strength

In watching Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait Of A Lady On Fire”, there’s nothing more quietly surprising than the very presence of equality in all of the characters we see onscreen.

There still is, of course, the invisible patriarchal conventions that surround the three women, but Sciamma never glorifies her film as a mere offering for token feminism. In Sciamma’s eyes, Heloise and Marianne’s quiet, yet powerful, inevitable, and all-consuming romance is a powerful, beautiful thing, in and of itself. There are no outspoken declarations of feminism or rebellion, and yet there is something inherently revolutionary in womanhood, at least in Sciamma’s view: in the sisterhood between women in the household, in the inevitability of a love affair between two women, if only for a brief moment in time.

Surprisingly, there’s also very little room for gushing sentimentality in this film. If anything, “Portrait” is, by all means, an ode to love and art, and the myriad channels and mirrors between the two, but it also is very much a pragmatic love story. There are no grand gestures or anguished hand-wringing or swoon-worthy scenes at all — indeed, the singular farewell embrace the two lovers share lasts a mere split-second, before Marianne is rushed out the door, no frills, and no questions asked. Every woman we see onscreen is very well aware of her place in 19th-century society, and abides by such constraints with such agility and understanding, it speaks its own kind of quiet strength.

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