By Mónica Delgado
Céline Sciamma takes as an inspiration some imaginaries about sisterhood through the times, to appropriate them and return them inside a tal of a lesbian love at the end of XIX century. An abortion, a night gathering of women where they sing and meet around the fire, hallucinogenic potions which are absorbed when scrubbed in the skin appear in different passages of Portrait de la jeune fille en feu, her second film.
Here, Sciamma transforms some elements of witchcraft guilt into scenes of feminine cooperation. A painter is hired to do the portrait of a young woman with depression, who resists posing. For a social obligation, they need the painting to consume the marriage agreed with a foreign man. The painter travels to an island where she must remain some days to deliver the request, and realize the portrait blind, only through the memory of some walks in the afternoon. Little by little she establishes a friendship and the two women will forge a relationship through contemplation and the process of making the portrait.
Like in Girlhood, but with a more refined style which tries to spread the rhythm of a determined historical period, Sciamma describes feminine interaction processes and focus in showing how characters perceive each other, and how alliances are forged, where there’s space for identification and empathy.
Like in her first feature, the idea of women community is primal here. But beyond those bonds, Sciamma is interested to talk about story of frustrated love, where the myth of Eurydice, which is read by the characters in a film’s passage, becomes the symbolic axis of the narration and staging: apparitions, and retention of images in memory towards objects and subjects about to disappear.
Portrait de la jeune fille en feu is a great step forward in the career of this French director, who has shown with this film, competing for the Golden Palm, that she can go beyond social and urban drama to a one of vintage setting, and succeed in doing so, since beyond the genres or styles, she’s shaping to be a filmmaker of feminine compact universes, who looks to match the sensibilities of current times.
Directing and script: Céline Sciamma
Cinematography: Claire Mathon
Music: Para One, Arthur Simonini
Cast: Adèle Haenel, Noémie Merlant, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino, Cécile Morel
Production companies: arte France Cinéma / Hold Up Films / Lilies Films
France, 2019, 120 mins