A Haunting Love Told in brushstrokes: Celine Sciamma’s Unforgettable PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

Adèle Haenel in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Imager from Youtube.

Every year the New York Film Festival brings about 30 new World, US, and North American premieres which get shuffled along with retrospectives, documentaries, and a new section, Projections, in which smaller films, usually by new and/or rising directors, also get their own screening, It’s usually a gargantuan task for someone like me to pencil in about one to two movies a day during a 17-day stint and often it’s just nigh impossible. Plus, with some of them colliding with others, and the Film Society’s rather tight schedule of screening a movie at least twice (that is, until demand becomes overwhelming and they are called upon to open more slots for viewers hungry for first dibs, well before the mainstream can get to it), it can sometimes be a losing battle and one has to throw in the towel and catch at least a portion of the festivities and, like in the case of Celine Sciamma’s new movie, wait for its proper release.

I was lucky. enter resume objective examples for nursing assistant https://bmxunion.com/daily/how-long-does-a-dissertation-defense-last/49/ lisinopril top presentation ghostwriter site us enter site http://mcorchestra.org/5550-esl-phd-essay-writing-sites-gb/ https://eventorum.puc.edu/usarx/can-you-buy-viagra-at-cvs/82/ what is healthy lifestyle essay http://snowdropfoundation.org/papers/best-dissertation-proposal-writers-site-ca/12/ generic viagra rite aid good thesis for a self introduction speech book review companies follow site ghostwriting services rates follow site enter site go here chewing gum viagra mexique http://www.safeembrace.org/mdrx/canadian-viagra-pills/68/ go to link abraham lincoln paper term paper topics for paradise lost college term paper sample viagra pagamento paypal here source link https://bmxunion.com/daily/abstract-for-dissertation-example/49/ clomid for men side effects https://climbingguidesinstitute.org/6626-popular-dissertation-introduction-ghostwriter-service-au/ thesis proposal hardware software help with my literature research paper Portrait of a Lady on Fire doesn’t hit theaters until mid-February, 2020, which is criminal. I don’t know why it couldn’t have just stayed in theaters during December, when it made its one-week appearance for Oscar consideration. The screening I went to at the Angelika was packed to the gills — there was barely a seat left in the house where one could place ones drink and coat. That alone shows the power and allure this movie, Sciamma’s first incursion into period piece and a masterstroke at that, has had on its audience. I arrived about 20 minutes before seating, and already there were audience goers lavishing praise on the film, commenting on this being their second time viewing it to “capture the essence of art rendered on cinema”. It made me jealous; I sat there sipping my espresso thinking had I only made other choices, had I only not seen only wish I had seen it at the Alice Tully, but it conflicted with the screening of Liberté. [Not that I regret it.] Oh, well. Quel dommage.

Up to now, Celine Sciamma had been known almost primarily for her coming of age stories set in today’s time. None of her movies (Tomboy, Girlhood) hinted at the ambition, the sheer scope, that she showcases in her current movie (which is probably why I also may have decided against it). Reader, when Portrait of a Lady on Fire premieres next month you owe it to yourself, if you love movies as much as I do, to skip the graveyard of horror, action, and dull comedies to go see this movie alone. If you don’t even as much as see another one, that’s okay; all is forgiven. What Sciamma does with a deceptively simple story of tragic love goes far, far beyond what Todd Haynes did with his very own Carol (and I loved that movie to the point that it became my favorite for 2015).

Portrait of a Lady on Fire takes place at the end of the 1800s. Marianne (Noémie Berlant), a young Parisian artist, is hired to paint the portrait of Hëloíse, (Adèle Haenel), a young woman living in a remote area off the coast of Brittany who is betrothed to marry an Italian nobleman. The assignment itself isn’t complicated at all as this was the custom of affluent people about to enter into the institution of marriage; however, upon arrival, Marianne is notified that Hëloíse has been notoriously difficult to paint, as she doesn’t want to marry. Her mother (Valerie Golino) informs Marianne that she will then have to paint the portrait by memory alone and act as a companion to Hëloíse who must not be informed by any means that her portrait is being done.

Noémie Berlant as Marianne in Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

The story itself could hinge on this premise alone and for a while it does, but Sciamma is more attuned to slowly revealing a narrative in which both Marianne and Hëloíse start to reveal aspects of themselves, which naturally brings them closer together. When it becomes clear that Marianne is now starting to feel a fraud because a) Hëloíse is a woman she has to lie to, constantly, in order to glean as much visual information as she can in order to terminate her assignment, and b) feelings start to develop. How clever, an insightful, of Sciamma, to not only place two women in a time period when even the possibility of a same-sex attraction could be seen as criminal, but one that because of their isolation from glaring eyes starts to become stronger than the symbolic painting itself. Portrait of a Lady on Fire often looks and feels very Bergmanian, with characters talking with pauses, the camera placed at an angle from their faces that express oh-so much.

Image from IMDB.com

It also moves at a deliberate pace of a thriller even though there is really no mystery at all. Even so, Sciamma’s movie is drenched with the aura of portent (and deservedly so) that it will come across as a puzzle, most pointedly because of Hëloíse herself, who first gets introduced from the back, wearing a black hooded cape, and goes from pregnant, moody silences to sudden, jerky movements as when she attempts to rush towards the cliffs in a mock gesture of suicide (her sister, caught in a similar predicament, threw herself off and died). And what could be that brilliant white vision of Hëloíse that Marianne continues to have at regular intervals throughout the picture?

Dear reader, if you enjoy movies that move slowly, but with purpose, who reveal their cards one at a time, who don’t adhere to what you would be guessing should happen and take off into unknown territory which itself grounds the story in a romance steeped in fate, lush sensuality, and the sudden, overwhelming notion that this could all end in a crushing halt, then this is the movie for you to view, digest, and enjoy. The colors are alive in Sciamma’s movie in ways that make it look, itself, as painting in movement (as opposed to the use of hyperrealism to make every color an experience in Giallo). Adèle Haenel, a French actress (and Sciamma’s former girlfriend) has never been better, doing next to nothing but letting her own presence narrate the entire movie. Noémie Berlant carries the heavy dramatic load since she is almost always on screen, silently rendering her work of art with a meticulous delicacy that often seems as though she were “creating” her own vision of Hëloíse. Portrait of a Lady on Fire also contains one of the single most striking final shots –itself a work of art and I don’t mean to sound cliche — I have ever seen committed on film. It is so overwhelming in emotion that I felt as though I would drown in my own tears and choke from the pain I felt in my throat. If love were this deep, and rendered eternal through a clever positioning of a finger in a book… I would live forever.

I will call Portrait of a Lady on Fire one of France’s highest achievements in cinema and a movie that years from now will feature well up there with the movies of Renoir, Truffaut, Demy, and Tourneur. Go, go, go see it, you owe it to yourself to do so. It premieres February 14, 2020, in select cinemas.

THE GOLDFINCH examines grief and loss through the thread of a bird caught in canvas.

THE GOLDFINCH. Country: USA. Director: John Crowley. Screenwriter: Peter Straughan. Based on the Pulitzer Prize novel by Donna Tartt. Cast: Oakes Fegley, Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson, Finn Wolfhard, Aneurin Barnard, Willa Fitzgerald, Ashleigh Cummings, Dennis O’Hare. Language: English, Ukrainian, Danish, French. Released: September 13, 2019. Runtime, 150 minutes.

Mostly Indies rating: C+

Right on the heels of having watched It, Chapter Two, comes the adaptation of yet another massive novel, Donna Tartt’s polarizing novel The Goldfinch, a piece of work that has been labeled as both the best and the worst thing that has happened to the English language as of late. So its not a shock that a book that would engender such sentiment in the literary world would also stir some equally difficult feelings once its conversion to cinema was made a reality. Of course, that is exactly what happened, with the first reviews arriving right on cue with not much good to say about the movie, noting its richness of visuals, but lack of a central heart, its length, its shallow depiction of grief, uneven acting on behalf of some of its cast, and the choppy time jumps in which we begin at the end and go back only to do so over and over again. I for one did not see anything wrong with the time-jumps; somehow, I felt at ease with the technique. What probably helped me ease into the “Dickensian” story (yes, that too has littered one too many reviews of this movie; I won’t give it that comparison, sorry) was that I knew next to nothing about it. I haven’t read the book and since have begun it. Like 2018s The Wife, I leapt to cinemas solely on the basis of a) the trailer and b) Glenn Close and boy, was I stunned to see not only a performance with a capital P, but a lean story that opened itself up, revealing layers and layers of hurt, betrayals, sacrifice, and selfless love that would have been better off in a more deserving man. [The book, while good, is actually less compelling.] Anyway, so I went to see The Goldfinch and I have to say, it is a handsome, well-told story of a boy facing unimaginable loss and having to come through using only his wits and the one element glueing himself to the ground: the 1654 Fabritius painting of a goldfinch, captive in time and space on canvas. To see his eventual growth and incursion into the underbelly of society while haunted for the entirety of it, almost like an outsider looking into a car crash in slow motion, is sad enough as it is, and both actors — Oakes Fegley and the baby-faced Ansel Elgort carry the story more or less successfully. However, let me say, despite that I enjoyed The Goldfinch, I never felt that the story itself was, however, too compelling: perhaps there was a true lack of mystery to it nd not much angst, or emotional highs and lows, and holding the audience rapt for two and a half hours only to reveal its cards at the very end, while it is fitting, comes off as a bit underwhelming when much of the events are somewhat muted and not too interesting. If at all, seeing solid actors try their best (although Sarah Paulson does a massive faux pas in a scene when she gets so emotional over a tragic loss that it takes her into another movie entirely, considering how bitchy her character has been, but I’m still okay with that) is all that one can ask of a movie adaptation of a book. It could have been worse, and no, this is not even close to the triumphant disaster that was The Bonfire of the Vanities — that was just gross negligence to bring any coherence to a satire. The Goldfinch is a well told yarn that should he a self-contained miniseries. It is, not, by any means, Dickensian. Let’s just say, it’s Dickens-lite for the novice. There are many of these novels around with stock characters you’ve seen in many other movies and plot developments that you can predict in your sleep. Does it deliver? Yes, Is it solid? Yes? Now, will you remember this tomorrow?

No.

TULIP FEVER

 

TULIP FEVER

UK / USA
Director: Justin Chadwick
Runtime: 108 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ grading: D

It’s always a warning sign when a movie keeps getting pushed back and back until its distributor has no more options than to release it and hope to recoup some revenue. The atrociously titled Tulip Fever, a movie that makes you think it will be a documentary about the famed Dutch flower, lands with such a mighty thud that it basically cracks the pavement and sends shock-waves. That’s how bad it is, and it’s a shame, because it’s often sumptuous to look at; the production and art direction is a feast for the eyes. It should have been better by miles being that Tom Stoppard (who wrote Shakespeare in Love) wrote it, and Justin Chadwick directed it.

Tulip Fever is the story of a poor Dutch girl named Sophia (Alicia Vikander, rapidly turning into an overrated actress stuck in awful period pictures) who gets sold into a marriage of convenience to a wealthy merchant named Cornelius Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz, cast against type) who truly loves her despite her inability to have children. Wanting to remember their happiness together (and his luck at finding such a beautiful wife) he commissions a young artist named Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan, completely dead in the eyes) to paint their portrait. It’s no shocker that Sophia and Jan will find themselves in a hot and heavy tangle of passions, but then the story decides to branch out to other realms, and gets so complicated you’re taking notes to find out who’s on first, second, and third.

A maid (Holliday Grainger) gets pregnant by her also hot and heavy boyfriend (Jack O’Connell, completely miscast and wasted in about five minutes of screen time). Sophia gets a bright idea to feign a pregnancy in order to give Cornelius a child. Meanwhile, that romance that she was having with Jan takes a hike and for a large chunk of the movie all we see is him getting into the tulip trade in order to score big, and finally whisk Sophia away to The Good Life, somewhere. That plan backfires, and by then, all logic has flown out the window, turned into something Edgar Allan Poe on a happy day would have written in his sleep, and we’re left with nothing but the feeling that somehow, the author of this trashy story is chuckling to herself at having sold gullible readers a pile of rubbish for them to chew up like famished survivors of a downed ship that has been at sea for months.

My issue with this beautiful, overplotted train wreck is more the fact that it never knows what it wants to be: a sex farce, a drama, a romance, or a thriller with slight Gothic overtones. While you have Tom Hollander and Judi Dench providing much needed levity in their small roles as smarmy doctor/lecher and abbess, Zach Galifanakis’ presence gets the WTF performance of the year. Other than that, this is a terrible, misguided botch that will most likely die soon at the box office before the current month is over. If you choose to watch this mess, make sure you’ve drank a good amount of the good stuff. It’s soften the blow, trust me.






ROAD GAMES

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

Ever since B-movies like Ida Lupino’s 1953 film The Hitchhicker directors have been trying to up the ante while telling essentially the same story over and over. In this case, we open to an unseen figure dragging a body covered in what looks to be tarp across a backroad. We have no idea who this person might be, but the sharpening of knives and a quick glimpse of a dead face shows it’s clear what’s just happened and what’s to come. We cut then to a young British hitchhiker (Andrew Simpson, last seen in Notes on a Scandal as the kid Cate Blanchett’s teacher seduced) who witnesses a car veer to a screeching stop in front of him as an argument between a young French man and a woman (Josephine de la Baume) balloons out of control. The man, Jack, essentially rescues the woman, Veronique, from what could have been an impossibly violent situation. After the would-be-assailant takes off, Jack and Veronique continue, making small, tentative talk, each unsure if to open up to the other.

Soon after a car approaches them and a couple offers a ride. Anyone who would see the driver would probably give that man a “hell, no” from the get-go — Frederik Pierrot just oozes a kind of cheery menace I personally wouldn’t want to venture even near to. And the wife (Barbara Crampton as nervously stiff as ever), while quiet, makes allegations of a serial killer on the loose in the French countryside and later on as they arrive at the couple’s isolated mansion for a stopover, all but becomes unhinged at the seams. What could be going on with this older couple? Director Abner Pastoll keeps his cards tightly against his chest throughout the entire nocturnal sequence as the foursome have what amounts to a nearly terrifying dinner and the wife continues to warn Jack to keep his door locked at all times.

I won’t say more about what happens in Road Games because while it’s little more than cardboard horror, badly acted, it has a clever third-act that I didn’t quite see coming. Safe to say it’s an above average late night fright fest without too much gore or blood but a pretty dark center that points at the possibility, if French cinema was like its American counterpart, into sequels.