Celine Sciamma gathers all of life’s longing and affection, those you have felt and have had to let go of and those that are yet to come, into an embracive and enigmatic film. The Portrait of a Lady on Fire bridges the ephemeral with the everlasting. It’s a reflection of sentimental love, blotched in the very absence that it contains and soon this very absence deepens and vibrates the void too malignant and brusque to contain it.
Compare it to Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color, this film’s softer, more isolated, more real. The love affair is arousing and tender and startling not because it’s “forbidden.” But because it blends the artistic with the emotional… the naked, rawness of romance that makes the film distinctly spiritual and emotional.
Female desire – as wavering and intense to be captured on screen– is spirit rather than substance which, in ordinary life, is where the storm is felt the most. And films like Portrait of a Lady on Fire explore and ignite such an invisible force of nature. It’s essential cinema in that it’s indispensable. If the synthesis of a self is what is rather than what can be – then the past, present, and future spent in such deep affection is not time-bound. It’s the sum of all the experiences, emotions, and frustrations that that love arouses in us. It allows us to internalize it, embrace it, give it meaning, and for most of us, watch it recede as the sun sets on our desperation to love, our destructibility. And our wanting to never miss out on what could happen though it never once did.