Arguably, the reason Portrait of a Lady on Fire won its best screenplay accolade at Cannes is not due exclusively to its well-timed humour, but because its romantic breakthrough is built up so adroitly. Marianne is a young painter hired to create a portrait of Heloise, the reason being that she is to be married off against her will to a Milanese suitor, and the portrait is a way of proposal. For Heloise, the portrait is a death knell. Once it’s finished, she will be engaged.
Girlhood proved that director Céline Sciamma had high esteem for the central subjects in the present-day Banlieue. Here, she treads very carefully to avoid the over-familiar master-servant romance. This is reinforced by three tremendous performances. The film pays close attention to slight gestures and striking images which might knock us off in a moment.