As great as Hollywood is, when the same plot of the man rescuing the “helpless woman” gets recycled over and over, it gets pretty boring. If you agree, add Portrait of a Lady on Fire onto your list for your next movie night! Here’s why…
Unlike the typical urban setting of Hollywood films, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is set in a remote island in France. Beaches, flower fields and caves… nature is abundant and women look out for each other.
Artist Marianne is tasked with drawing a portrait of Héloïse, a daughter of a rich family whose mother wants to marry her off to an unknown man in Milan. But this is no easy mission—Marianne must draw Héloïse without her knowing. Tension is created in the film as Marianne must steal glances at Héloïse, who is reluctant to face fully towards Marianne.
Through this conflict, the film presents the problem of the non-consensual gaze—a gaze where someone looks at another without their consent or their knowing. We are all too familiar with this non-consensual gaze; whether it be Peeping Tom or a man looking at you too long on the Metro, we girls have always been subjects of this unwanted act of looking.
The movie also values intimacy. Love is portrayed as something collaborative, not something violent. Close-ups are prevalent and friends—no matter what their social class is—all stand in the same vertical line. On this island, women are all equal and women help each other.
We shouldn’t have to go to an island to see this. This should be normal. Hollywood—no, cinema needs to change. We need to normalize this intimate love, freedom from class barriers and the importance of consent so that we can lift up ourselves from the patriarchal world of classic cinema. If I have convinced you enough, please go watch Portrait of a Lady on Fire. (Disclaimer: it’s not available on Netflix yet, but you can stream it on Hulu)