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Portrait of a Girl on Fire (2019)
Portrait de la jeune fille en feu
drama, historical, melodrama
Director: Celine Syamma
Cast: Noemi Merlan, Adele Anel, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino, Kristel Baras
Premiere: October 24, 2019
The artist and drawing teacher Marian (Noemi Merlan) is asked about the origin of one of her paintings – the mysterious “Portrait of a Girl on Fire”. She recalls how she once received an order to draw a wedding portrait of Eloise (Adele Enel), a girl living in a secluded estate on the northern coast of France. She protests against marriage and refuses to pose, so Marian is forced to paint a portrait secretly, posing as Eloise’s companion. Girls are attracted to each other, although they understand that they can never be together.

Shot from the film “Portrait of a Girl on Fire”
“Portrait of a Girl on Fire” is the fourth directorial work of one of the main directors of modern France, Celine Syamma, who is largely known as the screenwriter of the animated film Life of the Zucchini, nominated for an Oscar. Her previous films form a kind of growing trilogy: “Water Lilies” are devoted to sexual awakening in teenage girls, “Tornado” explores the gender identity of pre-adolescence, and “Girlhood” – friendships through the prism of youthful maximalism. “Portrait” departs from the theme of growing up and opens a new, adult period in the work of Syamma, but retains its directorial minimalism and emphasis on the female look.

Shot from the film “Portrait of a Girl on Fire”

“Portrait of a Girl on Fire” is a rather old-fashioned movie made without any frills. For example, a theme-related “Favorite” tried to surprise with stylistic features (the use of fish-eye lenses) and structural ones (for example, the film does not contain the main character, because the script takes three women to a central position in turn). Syamma is not interested in such tricks, so the film looks like you saw it all, but separately from other directors. No innovation – just a strict scenario with a linear structure, a few flashbacks and roll calls with the “Person” by Ingmar Bergman.

Breton landscapes create a poetic atmosphere of a frozen time in which dialogs are not as important as the looks and touches of the heroines or the colors of their dresses (the confrontation of green and red, as in “Dyld” by Kantemir Balagov). The main strength of the film in its simplicity and sophistication is an important memory for the heroines, from which time simply washed away everything unnecessary.

Shot from the film “Portrait of a Girl on Fire”
Memory is one of the main themes of the film. It is not surprising that through the prism of memories, girls in the company of a young servant girl discuss the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Well-read Eloise offer their interpretation of events: Orpheus remembered the condition of Hades, but consciously turned around, because the memories of the young and beloved Eurydice are more important to him than the reunion with the dead girl. These cues are the key to Celine Syamma’s film.

The director does not rewrite historical processes – she does not allow her heroines to escape from the social norms of that time and gain ghostly happiness. At the same time, it does not turn impossible love into a tragedy in order to break the hearts of the audience – on the contrary, it allows the heroines to enjoy several weeks spent together, and gives them the opportunity to return to memories in which they will always be young and loved, like Eurydice in Orpheus’s memory . This is practically an adaptation of the annoying quote “Do not cry, because it is over. Smile because it happened, “but the main thing is just a modest film in which a woman talks about women, not trying to please men.

Breton landscapes create a poetic atmosphere of a frozen time in which dialogs are not as important as the looks and touches of the heroines or the colors of their dresses (the confrontation of green and red, as in “Dyld” by Kantemir Balagov). The main strength of the film in its simplicity and sophistication is an important memory for the heroines, from which time simply washed away everything unnecessary.

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