Friday, September 27, 2019

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu / Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu. Adèle Haenel. Please click to enlarge the photo.

Nuoren naisen muotokuva / Stående av en dam i brand.
FR 2019
Festival Hits / LGBTQ+ / Herstories / Love / Sex / About Art
Theme: Gala Films
Country: France
Director: Céline Sciamma
Screenplay: Céline Sciamma
Starring: Adèle Haenel, Noémie Merlant
Production: Bénédicte Couvreur / Lilies Films
Duration: 120 min
Rating: 12
Please note that there are no English dialogue nor English subtitles in the screening!
    Language: French
    Subtitles: Swedish, Finnish
    Distribution: Cinemanse
    Print source: Cinemanse
    Cinematography: Claire Mathon
    Editing: Julien Lacheray
Collaboration: Institut Français
Screener link viewed at home.
    4K DCP –1,85:1
– Antonio Vivaldi: Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione / Le quattro stagioni / Concerto n. 2 in sol minore, "L'estate", RV 315 (1723).
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF): Love & Anarchy.
Gala Screening: Bio Rex, 27 Sep 2019

Unifrance synopsis: "Brittany, 1770. Marianne, a painter, is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse, a young woman who has just left the convent. Héloïse is a reluctant bride to be and Marianne must paint her without her knowing. She observes her by day, to paint her secretly."

HIFF: Isabel Stevens (Sight & Sound): "Watching Céline Sciamma’s haunting and downright revolutionary fourth feature makes me think about all the phoney period dramas I’ve sat through. Prestige heritage cinema is so often packaged for women, but rarely does it bother with the nitty gritty of their lives beyond who the characters will marry."

"Men are banished to the background in this thoughtful and tender 18th-century set romance between a painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), and her unwilling subject Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). They appear at the start, dropping Marianne off on a windswept beach by Heloise’s isolated Brittany family home, and they reappear at the end as the film and characters rejoin wider society. In between we witness a quivering love affair, and get a glimpse at what for women freedom circa 1770 might look like."

"“Take time to look at me,” says Marianne, modelling for her class of female students at the start of the film. It equally works as a provocation to us. Take time to look at these characters properly, Sciamma is saying. By the end of the film her order takes on extra resonance as the short-lived love affair inevitably ends, and memories and paintings are all that are left."

"After such a restrained study of love and the power of looking comes the devastating ambush of the film’s ending – but, entirely appropriately, it’s one that simultaneously revels in the rhapsody of art." Isabel Stevens, Sight & Sound

AA: It's a film about painting a portrait of a woman destined to be married who does not look forward to get married.

She refuses to pose, so the painter has to become her maid and observe her while keeping her real mission secret.

But when the mission is inevitably exposed, the portrait does not satisfy its subject, and the painter has to start all over again. And she is not the first to attempt this portrait. Meanwhile, the painter and the model fall in love.

There are four women in the main roles of this film set on an isolated island in Brittany in the 1770s. Adèle Haenel is Héloïse, the reluctant model. Noémie Merlant is the painter. Valeria Golino is the countess, the mistress of the château. Luana Bajrami is Sophie, the real maid. They are all prisoners of the patriarchal society before the revolution.

Célina Sciamma reminds us that there was a surge in the presence of women in art at the time. There were some hundred prominent women painters in this period, artists such as Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Artemisia Gentileschi and Angelica Kauffman. Their circumstances were hard, they were discriminated, and they still are.

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu is itself a work with a strong visual concept. Shot on location in Brittany, in a real château, the period look is authentic with a fine taste in costume design.

There is a powerful feeling of natural light, a complex mise-en-scène, and an intricate plan-séquence composition.




Brittany, 1770. Marianne, a painter, is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse, a young woman who has just left the convent. Héloïse is a reluctant bride to be and Marianne must paint her without her knowing. She observes her by day, to paint her secretly.


Until now, you have tended to work on contemporary topics, a director of our times. Why this leap back with a film set in the 18th century?
An  issue  may  be  an  old  one,  but  that  does  not  mean  it  is  not  topical. Especially when it is such a poorly known story. That of women artists and even of women in general.

When  I  immersed  myself  in  the  documentation,  I  knew  very  little  about  the  reality  of  female  artists  of  that  time.  I  knew  only  about  the  stars  who  confirmed  their  existence:  Elisabeth  Vigée Le Brun, Artemisia Gentileschi or Angelica Kauffman. The  difficulty  in  collecting  information  and  archive  material  was  unable  to  obscure  the  existence  of  a  genuine  surge  in  the  presence  of  women  in  the  art  world  in  the  second  half  of  the  18th century. Women painters were numerous and had careers, notably  thanks  to  the  fashion  for  portraits.  Female  art  critics,  demands for more equality and visibility, everything was there.

In this context, about a hundred women painters had successful lives and careers. Many of them are in the collections of major museums. But they were not included in the historical accounts. When I discovered the work of these forgotten women painters, I felt great excitement and sorrow too. The sorrow of the total anonymity  of  these  works  condemned  to  secrecy. Not  just  because of the realization of how the history of Art has made them  invisible,  but  also  because  of  the  consequences:  when  I  look  at  these  images,  they  disturb  me  and  move  me  above  all  because they have been missing from my life.

How  did  you  approach  the  directing  issues  related  to  historical re-creation?
A  film  in  period  costume  seems  to  require  more  work  than  another,  enlisting  a  host  of  people,  techniques,  demands,  experts and anxieties about re-creation. In reality, it is the same work process. Once anachronism is excluded, we deal with the historical truth of sets and costumes as we deal with reality in a  contemporary  film.  The  question  remains  the  same:  what  imagination is deployed in collaboration with the truth.

Paradoxically, of all my films, this is the one where we had the least  work  to  do  on  the  sets.  We  shot  in  a  château  that  had  not been lived in or restored and whose woodwork, colours and parquet  floors  had  remained  frozen  in  time.  This  was  a  very  strong anchor and our work therefore focused more on fittings and props, on materials, wood and fabrics.

The  new  challenge  for  me  was  the  creation  of  the  costumes.  Being able to intervene with this level of precision is exciting.

Especially since I wanted one uniform per character, something that Dorothée Guiraud and I focused on. It’s a form of tailor-made characterization and we have to deal with costume politics more than ever. The choice of cuts and materials – in particular their weight - engages at one and the same time the sociology of the character, historical truth and the performance of physically constrained actresses. I was determined that Marianne should have  pockets,  for  example.  For  her  general  attitude,  but  also  because pockets for women would be banned at the end of the century and vanish. I like the idea of this silhouette, so modern, which is rehabilitated as if revived.

As soon as I began dreaming about the film, the great challenge in historical re-creation concerned the intimate, the restitution of  emotion.  Even  though  these  women  knew  their  lives  were  marked out in advance, they experienced something else. They were curious, intelligent and wanted to love. Their desires may be part of a world that forbids such things, but they exist all the same.  Their  bodies  become  their  own  when  they  are  allowed  to  relax,  when  vigilance  wanes,  when  there  is  no  longer  the  gaze of protocol, when they are alone. I wanted to return their friendships and questions to them, their attitudes, their humour, their desire to run.

The cast is central to this issue of representation.
The  role  of  Héloïse  was  written  with  Adèle  Haenel  in  mind.  The  character  wrote  herself  based  on  all  the  qualities  she  has  demonstrated in recent years. But it was also written with the ambition  of  giving  Adèle  a  new  score.  Things  we  didn’t  know  about her yet. Things that, in some cases, I didn’t know myself, even though I had dreamed of them. The role is emotional and intellectual, and because Adèle works with living matter without ever  stopping  to  think  about  it,  she  has  the  power  to  embody  desires  and  the  thought  of  desires.  We  worked  with  great  precision on the set, especially on her voice. This collaboration is at the heart of the film, which puts an end to the concept of the “muse” to recount the creative relationship between the viewer and the viewed in a new way. In our studio, there is no muse: there are just two collaborators who inspire each other.

Alongside Adèle Haenel, you have opted for a new face.
A face unfamiliar to me but not that of a beginner. I felt that a first-time encounter with an actress could contribute immensely to the film and the story, especially in the love dynamic. I was keen  to  create  a  duo,  a  film  couple  that  would  have  its  iconic  side  and  therefore  its  exceptional  aspect.  Marianne  appears  in  every scene and so it was necessary to have a very strong actress. Noémie  Merlant  is  a  determined,  courageous  and  emotional  performer.  A  blend  of  precision  and  excess  that  made  the  character’s  invention  exciting,  gradually  revealing  itself  as  we  worked.  As  if  this  Marianne  truly  existed  somewhere.  And  I  owe a lot of that to Noémie.

This is the first time that you have ever related the experience of love.
It was my initial desire to shoot a love story. With two apparently contradictory  wishes  underlying  the  writing.  Firstly,  to  show,  step  by  step,  what  it  is  like  to  fall  in  love,  the  pure  present  and  pleasure  of  it.  There,  the  direction  focuses  on  confusion,  hesitation  and  the  romantic  exchange.  Secondly,  to  write  the  story  of  the  echo  of  a  love  affair,  of  how  it  lives  on  within  us  in  all  its  scope.  There,  the  direction  focuses  on  remembrance,  with the film as a memory of that love. The film is designed as an  experience  of  both  the  pleasure  of  a  passion  in  the  present  and the pleasure of emancipatory fiction for the characters and the audience. This dual temporality allows us to experience the emotion and to reflect on it.

There  was  also  the  desire  for  a  love  story  based  on  equality.  From  the  casting  stage,  Christel  Baras  and  I  were  concerned  about this balance. A love story that is not based on hierarchies and relationships of power and seduction that exist before the encounter. The feeling of a dialogue that is being invented and that surprises us. The whole film is governed by this principle in the  relationships  between  the  characters.  The  friendship  with  Sophie,  the  servant,  which  goes  beyond  the  class  relationship.  The frank discussions with the Countess who herself has desires and  aspirations.  I  wanted  solidarity  and  honesty  between  the  characters.

How did you approach the issue of painting?
First,  there  was  the  decision  to  invent  a  painter  rather  than  choose a great inspiring figure. It seemed right to me, in relation to  the  careers  of  these  women  who  only  knew  the  present:  inventing one was a way of thinking of them all. Our historical consultant,  an  art  sociologist  specializing  in  painters  of  this  period,  helped  to  make  Marianne  convincing  as  a  painter  in  1770 through her reading of the script.

I  wanted  to  show  the  character  at  work,  with  all  the  different  layers.  And  it  was  necessary  to  invent  her  paintings.  I  wanted  to work with an artist rather than with copyists. I wanted her to  be  the  same  age  as  the  character.  A  30-year-old  painter  working today. I came across Hélène Delmaire’s work through my research on women painters, which included contemporary works, particularly on Instagram. She had classical training in oil painting and was fairly experienced in 19th-century techniques. As a trio with the director of photography, Claire Mathon, we focused on this dual issue, that of the creation of the paintings and their execution in the film. How to film them and in what time  frame.  We  shot  different  stages  in  the  work  and  only  in  sequence  shots.  The  decision  to  avoid  all  dissolves  helps  form  the  structure.  We  chose  the  real  time  of  the  painter’s  gestures  and their rhythm rather than the synthesis offered by editing.

Apart from two musical moments that play a part in the plot, the film has no music.
I  had  already  planned  to  make  the  film  without  music  when  I was writing. I say this because it was something that had to be  thought  out  in  advance.  Especially  in  a  love  story,  where  emotion  is  often  musical.  We  had  to  think  about  it  in  the  rhythm of the scenes and their arrangement. You can’t count on music to bind them, for example. There will be no emergency or backup melody. We’re dealing with total scenic units. To make a film without music is to be obsessed with rhythm, to make it arise elsewhere, in the movements of the bodies and the camera. Especially since the film is mostly made up of sequence shots and therefore with a precise choreography.

It was a gamble but I did not view it as a challenge. Here too, basically, it is a re-creation issue. I wanted to make music a part of  the  characters’  lives,  as  a  rare,  desired,  precious,  unavailable  thing.  And  so  put  the  viewer  in  the  same  condition.  The  relationship  to  art  in  the  film  is  generally  vital  because  the  characters  are  isolated.  First  of  all,  from  the  world,  then  from  each other. The film also tells us that art, literature, music and cinema sometimes allow us to give full rein to our emotions.


Marianne - Noémie Merlant
Héloïse - Adèle Haenel
Sophie - Luana Bajrami
The countess - Valeria Golino

writer & director - Céline Sciamma
casting director - Christel Barasset
designer - Thomas Grezaud
costume designer - Dorothée Guiraud
director of photography - Claire Mathon
editor - Julien Lacheray
original score - Jean-Baptiste de Laubier / Arthur Simonini
sound - Julien Sicart, Valérie Deloof, Daniel Sobrino
producer - Bénédicte Couvreur

Produced by Lilies Films
In coproduction with ARTE France Cinéma and Hold-Up Films & Productions
With the participation of the CNC
and the support of the Région Ile-de-France
With the participation of Canal + / Ciné + / ARTE France
In association with Cinécap 2
French Distribution Pyramide International Sales mk2 films
France – 2019 – 2h – Colour – 1.85 – DCP 4K – 5.1

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