‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire,’ Celine Sciamma’s French romance film narrates a sensitive, passionate, and heartbreaking story of two young women Marianne (Noemie Merlant) and Heloise (Adele Haenel).
The film is set in the 18th century, Marianne is a young artist who got a commissioned painting to paint a portrait of Heloise, who is getting married to a Milanese gentleman.
Since Heloise doesn’t want to be getting painted, so Marianne has to do her job without her knowledge. To paint the portrait, Marianne has to observe Heloise keenly.
Eventually, Marianne revealed her purpose to Heloise, and shortly after that, we find the two women have explored themselves in each other’s arm.
‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ Movie Ending Explained:
‘The Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ has a simple storyline but has a deeper meaning to each scene. The passionate brief love story between an artist and her subject is poignant.
It is a film from a female gaze focusing on the female subject and their intimate love story.
The scenes are laced with romance and memory-filled emotions that both the women are creating in the five days.
Page Number 28 of the book –
When Marianne is in an art exhibition, she finds a beautiful portrait of Heloise with her little daughter in the gallery.
The moment she saw the portrait, Marianne’s heart could be filled wither with happiness or pain. After a few seconds, what she saw in the portrait of Heloise is more pleasing to her, page number 28 of the book.
What’s the page number 28 signifies?
During their brief span of lovemaking and romance, once Heloise asked Marianne that she doesn’t have anything that will remind her of Marianne. So, Marianne sketched a self-portrait in page number 28 of the book.
It is a remembrance that even though they aren’t together and perhaps won’t see each other ever. The image of Marianne on number 28 of the book is close to Heloise’s heart.
So, when Marianne saw the number 28, she was convinced that their memory of that day is still strong and fresh in Heloise’s mind and heart.
The significance of the song “Summer” in the last scene
The movie’s last shot of Heloise sitting at the concert alone is simple yet so powerful. Marianne recounts the last time she saw Heloise at the concert sitting far. She had a glimpse of her, but Heloise didn’t notice her.
The last scene of ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ reminds me of another brilliant LGBTQ love story movie ‘Call Me by Your Name.’ If you have seen that movie, you know what I am referring to.
I find striking similarities in the last scene of both the movies ‘Call Me by Your Name’ and ‘Portrait of a lady on Fire.’
In both, the movies, one of the protagonist’s long static shots, focuses on the facial expression of a thousand emotions is powerful and deep.
At the concert, when the orchestra starts to play the “Summer” section of Vivialdi’s “The Four Seasons,” we watch Heloise’s expressions.
The camera movement keeps still, and we see through Marianne’s perspective, Heloise’s experiences of joy, pain, happiness that melt into tears rolling down her cheeks.
This is a masterful shot in the entire film. The song that Heloise heard at the concert reminds her of the moment when Marianne tapped it on the harpsichord during their brief time of togetherness.
Even the scene in the film, when Marianne played the “Summer” piece explaining each chord to Heloise, the look of her face connects with the ending scene.
Even then, just by looking at Marianne playing the chord gave her immense pleasure and a smile on her face that she might not have smiled for a very long time.
The song playing at the concert in the ending scene deeply connects her with the memory of Marianne. It would seem to us that she still is in love with the woman of her life, the same way she did years before.
The thrill of the song resembles on Heloise’s face on both the occasion. The only difference is with Marianne Heloise’s expression reveals her emerging passionate love.
In the end scene, her expression reveals her pain of long-lost love and happiness of experiencing the ‘love.’
‘Portrait of a Lady on fire’ tells us that ‘Summer’ is the one song that binds Marianne and Heloise together in their memory, serving as a manifestation of love.
What’s so special about ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ that touched my heart
I watched the film twice on Amazon Prime Video, and I can say I am still with the movie even after hours.
Director Sciamma has used both the women’s character intensely and sensitively to portray their love.
The intense use of detail makes every scene so important to understand. From the beginning of the film, ‘Portrait of a Lady on fire’ is a movie of observation.
It starts with Marianne; she observes Heloise’s face, her lines, shades, her pose everything to make her painting accurate. ¬
‘When you’re observing me, who do you think I ‘m observing?
There are scenes in the film that has limited exchange of dialogues, still so compelling and powerful. The makers have made brilliant use of the facial expression, especially ‘eyes,’ to display thoughts of both the characters.
There is one powerful moment when Marianne, Heloise, and Sophie attend a bonfire ceremony at night when Heloise and Marianne lock themselves up in a long seductive gaze.
The moment she moved her long overcoat catches fire, justify the title of the film, ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire.’
The passion-filled look convinced both that this is the fleeting moment that they should capture and ignite their love.
Also, the painting that we see at the beginning of the film when Marianne tells her student the name of her painting is ‘Portrait of a Lady on fire’ resembles the exact moment of the bonfire night.
In the painting, Heloise in flames symbolizes her passionate feeling that wants to unravel but can’t, hence burning inside.
There is another scene that I want to interpret is the –
Orpheus & Eurydice in Portrait of a Lady on Fire
The Greek legendary story of Orpheus & Eurydice is key to the love story of Marianne & Heloise.
The Greek story follows Orpheus falls in love with Eurydice, but she dies when she is bitten by a snake.
Orpheus travels to the underworld and pleads to Hades to send her back to him. Hades agrees, but on one condition, he can’t look back when she returns; otherwise, he will lose her for always.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t resist, and as he turns back, Eurydice vanishes from his sight forever.
Heloise, while reading the book to Sophie, she freaked out, but Marianne told that it was Orpheus choice to look back and hold the memory forever.
The same interpretation frames in the love story of Heloise and Marianne too. When Marianne finished the portrait of Heloise, she knew it is the last few moments she had with Heloise.
She hugged her before leaving, and as Heloise called her to turn back, Marianne turned and held that fleeting memory of Heloise in her white dress forever.
Even in the last scene in her art gallery exhibition, an art enthusiast did notice her painting of Orpheus and Eurydice. That painting itself symbolizes the story of Marianne and Heloise.
There are a few movies that are hard to ignore and forget. For me, ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ is the one.
The beauty of this film lies in how perfectly it has portrayed the development of love between the two women characters and their separation.
“Portrait of a lady on Fire” isn’t just a love story; it’s a collaboration of love and art.