ARKANSAS TIMES FILM SERIES: ‘PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE’
TUESDAY 8/22. Riverdale 10 VIP Cinema. 7 P.M.
Set in the late 18th century, Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019) opens with a blank canvas. As a group of people sketch while their instructor, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), poses as their model, one of the students references a painting in the room, the titular artwork. At once, we’re shuttled back in time to an isolated island off the coast of France, where Marianne has been commissioned to paint a portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), who is reluctantly betrothed to an Italian nobleman.
Because a number of artists have attempted and failed to capture Héloïseʼs likeness, Marianne initially begins her work in secret, keenly observing Héloïse while posing as a hired companion and painting the details of her subject by memory. Only after she confesses her task and they decide to collaborate does the portrait start to take shape.
Though many of writer and director Sciamma’s films interrogate the complicated act of looking, this one takes direct aim at the notion of the artistic muse, a tension that’s heightened by a backdrop of forbidden queer romance and the female gaze. Following last month’s screening of “Paris Is Burning,” “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is the second film selected in collaboration with William Moon, the features programmer of the Kaleidoscope LGBTQ+ Film Festival.
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