S1: Right now.
S2: Charlotte, great paper.
S3: What’s in the box?
S4: Hello and welcome to another Slate. Spoiler special podcast. This week we are talking about Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The new film from Celine CMA, which opens fittingly on Valentine’s Day as it is a love story. And with me in the Slate studio to talk about portrait of a lady on fire are June Thomas, the senior managing producer of Slate podcast. Hello, June. Hey, Dina. And Dan Kois also joining me here in the studio, which is nice as you’re usually in D.C. You are now a Slate culture writer, podcaster with at least.
S5: Let’s ask him why. Just thought I’d get that in there while we’re doing the French. But it’s all about the suit. Oh, God, no, I’m all right.
S6: All although it did not win this certain high guy award at Cannes, right? It did win the Queer Palme, which I didn’t know existed until this year. And this is the first time a woman has won this green play award. I believe that at Cannes as well, and has basically, except for the Oscars, which of course, are not going to recognize the movie, this obscure and frankly, this good.
S4: It has rolled through awards season last year, getting all kinds of recognition, been extremely praised before we start talking in depth. I will do my usual quick thumbnail round and see what you each thought about the movie. Dan. I know just from your Twitter that you loved and adored this movie. This is my favorite movie of last year. Hear it. And it was on my top 10 list, too, I think. Yeah. If I had to name just one. I’m not a drinker, but I think that this one would be hard not to put at the top.
S6: And June, me and Dan are two straight people raving about this lesbian movie, yet we have an actual lesbian in the studio with us. Give us your lesbian stand.
S7: A billion on a lesbian scale of, you know, scissoring to know.
S8: I want to know is at the other end of the scale. I don’t know. I have no idea. Oh, my God. I thought it was awesome.
S5: Yes. Excellent responses. Tribe. Yeah.
S6: All right. Well, I don’t want to go down too many rabbit holes with Celine, but I am going to be interviewing her this weekend for Criterion. And so I’m excited about that. And I went on a little journey.
S4: She all of her movies right now, maybe because of the release of this on Valentine’s Day have been put on the Criterion streaming channel. So if you subscribe to that, you can watch her whole of to be a little more French. So all three of her previous movies, Water Lilies, Tomboy and Girlhood and believe in that order have been about adolescent girls. And this is her first time making an adult love story between two grown women, one of whom I feel like we have to point this out, even though it’s gossip at the top of the show. But Adele Adele, who plays the object of desire of the painter in Portugal, a lady on fire, is or possibly was. I’m not sure what their status is now. The real life girlfriend of Celine syama, which when you watch this movie, that is actually not just extraneous gossip, I think it really weaves into the story in a way, since this is all about creating the portrait of someone with whom you are in love. So obviously a different layer is added when one’s lover is the object of that desire.
S9: Yeah, I think the subject is a subject of this movie.
S10: Yes. And I learned this after watching it. And I think you were right that I would have had a different experience if I had known that. And I think it’s probably better for me not to have because I would have been having all sorts of thoughts.
S11: But but yeah, why I in a few pieces, I just liked that sort of extra layer of directorial interest that that I would have loved the movie anyway. But yeah, that in advance really helped me. I think appreciate a bunch of the choices that the movie made even more.
S4: We’ll get into this as we speak, but I think more than almost any movie I can think of, this is a movie that ties together theme and content at a very basic level. I mean, it’s not a movie that has to work to achieve some sort of allegorical clunk. Ali sits on top of the story, right? I mean, the story and the allegory really organically emerge from the same source. But we should start getting into specifics.
S12: The thing that kicks the movie off, the dilemma that faces its main character. It’s like a great idea for a movie. And it’s also so easy to understand as the defining metaphor of what the story is about. So the movie is about. It’s set in the seventeen hundreds. Yes.
S4: Yes. They never say a date, which is interesting. There’s no little legend that appears on screen. But I’ve read in some of the production notes that it was supposed to be 1760, which is an interesting year to set it because it’s just right in the middle of the 18th century. It’s pre-revolutionary France. You mean it’s not as if there were any sort of rumblings in the air about beheading the aristocracy at this point? So the dilemma that Louise Adel had, Nell’s character finds herself trapped in was very much the dilemma of the time and pretty much inescapable in the minds of, you know, members of the aristocracy.
S12: So that dilemma is that she has returned to home after her time in a convent because her older sister has died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. But she believes and most people believe that this older sister committed suicide. One reason that Elway’s believes she committed suicide is that she was pledge she was. Age to be married. Her mother planned to engage her to a M.A.D. Noble. They are French. They live, I believe, off the coast of Brittany. But her mother is Italian. She’s Milanese and she came to France 20 years ago and she wants to marry one of her daughters off to a M.A.D. Noble so that she can move back to Milan. And also, I’m sure, to secure the family’s fortunes. Louisa’s older sister has killed herself, perhaps rather than face this fate. Though doesn’t sound like so bad of a fate to me necessarily. Bolognaise. Very nice. And Louise returns back and she’s not that excited about this fate either. But in order to make this engagement happen, a portrait must be painted of this woman to send to Milan so that the nobleman can see it and say, Oh, yeah, I’ll marry that. And a portrait painter came to this island, came to the house and sat with her. The male portrait painter portrait nature came and tried to sit with her for a week, but she refused to pose, and so no portrait could be made. And now a second portrait page, a replacement, a woman named Marianne, played by no means what has come out to the island. And she is meant to create the portrait. But she is told by a la contests played by Valeria Galeano, Louise’s mom, that Louise has not been told. That’s why Marianne is here. Marianne has to paint the portrait in secret. She’s been told only that Mariana’s here to go on walks with her to provide a little companionship, to be a friend of her week. She must capture what glimpses she can of her subject and paint the picture without her subject ever knowing.
S4: It’s such a good premise, right? I mean, it’s just such an excellent, excellent setup for a movie and for a lesbian movie.
S13: It’s also, you know, this idea of having to please a man to save her, which is something that we don’t know. I mean, certainly this is we should state that this is before any concept of lesbianism. This is not a an alternative identity that’s possible for them. It’s just perhaps it seems to be a good chance that Louise is attracted to women. But it’s not necessarily because I know I’m a lesbian. I don’t want to go off and be a wife. But there is this whole element of all portrait painters have this task of you could please your subject. You’ve got to kind of flatter your subject. But in this case, she also has to provide a loop that will kind of get her purchased. In a sense, she has to please this this Milanese business man with the painting that she makes. And if there’s any conflict within her about that, then, you know, that makes for a very interesting kind of mood that kind of under underscores the action of the film action.
S5: Right. It’s acted in this film. It’s very much it’s so much action in this film. Action is there. Is there action?
S6: Well, I mean, for one thing, there’s danger because the cliffs of Brittany, where this house is situated and where her sister hurled herself to her death. Right.
S4: Or fell to her death, we’re not quite sure which are just constantly present on their walks every day. And there’s a very early scene where you see Louise running at full tilt toward the cliff. Right. You always wanted to do that.
S5: And Marianne said, what, di? And she said, no run.
S4: That’s such a great line. Especially cause it rhymes in French movie or Coulier. Yeah. So a lot is established just by the geography of the house and even the mysterious emptiness of a house, which is something that haunted me. I mean, there are wealthy family, yet the furniture is covered in sheets. It’s all empty. There’s no men around anywhere. It’s not quite clear to me whether this is a place that the women of the family are kind of sent away for parts of the year. But it doesn’t seem to be the place where the actual wealth of the family resides.
S12: My take on it was that the contest has already prepared everything in their lives for the move to Milan that she is praying is happening. And so whatever staff they have have been dismissed or sent to Milan that everything is starting to get ready to be packed, that she’s already made that move in her head and that the death of her older daughter threw everything for a loop. But she’s still in this house where it’s just her, her daughter and the maid. The maid, who we should mention is a very important character in this movie, Sophie, who’s played a lot of AZAMI. But it’s just those women in the house. And yes, that emptiness, combined with the emptiness of the vast water out in the distance and the cliffs that seem to surround the house on every side really tells part of the story. And then when they do encounter other people on this island or in this place where they live, that creates a new kind of story for them when they start to deal with other women, all women who they encounter in the town that they live in.
S4: Yeah. This is another place where I feel like the story of the film and the themes of the film are perfectly braided together, because once Marianne takes that boat ride at the beginning of the movie, there’s a great moment where her canvas falls into the water and she has to leap in and save it. Right, because her whole livelihood and her whole point of going is invested in those materials. But once she gets dropped off and heads to that almost island, I don’t think it is an island is more like a remote peninsula of some kind. But once she gets there, she is basically in the place that Wonderwoman starts some sort of a utopian all female kind of excluded paradise. Right. I mean, it is.
S13: And yet there’s no help. It’s a. Place where you are all alone with other people. I mean, so on the boat. When she’s crossing to get to the house, to get to her job, as you said, she jumps into the water. But like, it’s all on her.
S8: There’s like five guys in that. Yeah. Yeah.
S7: And it really does seem very dangerous because the boat is, you know, being tossed and it seems quite dingy. I mean, that’s how the the canvases get out of the boat. It’s really a very dangerous passage, it seems. And the men are there’s no way they’re doing that. And she doesn’t say anything. She’s nobody tells her, we’ll go and get them then like it’s all on her. And then when she finally gets to the house. Yeah. Eventually the maid helps her. Sophie, who little learn like an hour and 20 minutes and we finally learn her name. I mean, that’s a weird thing about this movie that we get no clues. We don’t get to where we are or when it is their names are parceled out with such tightness. But even there, she has to figure things out herself.
S13: Yeah, she eventually does get told. Yes. This is what’s going on. But there’s so much autonomy that it’s it’s both inspiring and also a bit scary.
S4: Yeah, it’s it’s freedom, but it’s an artificial isolated freedom in this one place which in fact, secretly from the outside is completely controlled by men. And that, again, is communicated, as you say, very simply, without ever telling us or really laying it on us very heavily. But the only time you see men in this movie are in the frame right at the beginning, rowing her across the rough water. And then at the end in that scene in the salon, right itself, coda at the end.
S12: I mean, I think one thing that’s left unstated, but which I at least read as a thing that was happening in this movie, is that the situation that Larcom tests and her daughter find themselves in, I think almost certainly is the result of a man, right? It’s almost certainly the result of her husband dying. At some point, her husband has died. And that has created a precarious situation for a family that she wants to resolve by marrying off a daughter to this nobleman and the Lord. But, you know, as with Mariane’s talk about halfway through the movie, about how because of her sex, there are certain subjects she can’t paint and certain things that she is not allowed to do. The movie is not overtly feminist in any way. Yet every character in it deeply believes in her own worth and talks very frankly about the ways that she is trapped by a society that she doesn’t exactly have works for. But she knows how she’s trapped and she knows the ways that men have trapped her.
S4: Right. And there are more men behind the scenes pulling strings that we hear about. For example, the father of Mariane’s character, Wright, who was also a portrait painter and who I think it said, painted the wedding portrait of the contests.
S12: And her husband appears to be a famous portrait painter, the kind of person who you wish you could hire, but you can’t afford to hire his daughter instead.
S13: Right. I’d have to say, though, in his case, he’s maybe the only time were this off-screen man seems to actually be conveying positive effects because, for example, the fact that Marianne can take over her father’s business, that gives her choices, that a louis’ doesn’t have to skip right to the end and in a salon situation. We learned that Marianne has exhibited one of her own paintings, which would not be allowed because she exhibited it under the name of her father. And so in that case, it’s a man who’s giving her options rather than limiting her options and just closing down what she can do. Right.
S4: And so in spite of the fact that she seems to come from a lower class, some sort of I know what you’d call it, the bourgeoisie, the Berger class or something. Right. She has much more social mobility and freedom than Louise does.
S13: Yeah. She can’t go as high. But she also has way more options.
S4: Shall we talk about the process by which they fall in love? Because as you say, June, this is another case of this movie. Not laying it on thick. Not giving us a lot at a time and sort of doling things out in very small portions so that when they come, you’ve really been waiting for them. And a couple of those early walks along the cliff that they take together, which are these very complexly plotted walks, because they’re not just about two women who may be falling in love, but they’re about surveillance. Right. Because Marianne has, in a way, been hired to watch Louise and make sure she doesn’t hurl herself off any cliffs or run away or anything like that. And there’s also this scoping of the person that you’re going to paint. There’s this artistic process going on where she’s trying to gather details about the face that she then has to go and secretly paint in private. So those early walk scenes are just so pregnant with meaning. Right. And there’s a glorious, glorious shot in one of them. I’m sure you’ll both remember there’s just such a great use of camera space. That’s a sort of semi close up on both of their faces. They’re looking out to see and you see both of their profiles. And there’s this moment that they’re secretly checking each other out. And depending on who’s looking at whom and who knows, they’re being looked at. You just sort of keep seeing a different face, be in profile and then be in full face. It’s one of those moments of great playfulness where it’s the camera placement and the blocking itself that tells the story.
S13: And that reminds me of something that kind of. As I was watching this film, which it could have easily been a much more basic version of itself in which it would be the kind of film that it’s great to write, like a film studies one or one essay about. So for example, that makes me think, you know, and I probably even made a note that so much of the ideas about the two of them, one person is ahead, one person is behind. And this is even relevant because Sophie says that the sister was walking behind and she just disappeared. And so there’s this concept of being ahead, being behind that keeps coming up sometimes, you know, because of the way they’re looking at each other, because of the work, too, that where Marianne is painting, eventually, Louise, she is of course, she’s she’s in the sense in front of her. And then when they become lovers, when they become closer, Marianne invites Louise to be at the same level. So there is a lot of business around whether you’re behind or ahead of someone. And then, of course, when they’re in bed together, they’re next to each other or in other situations, they’re next to each other. So there’s a lot of that placing of people, which you do, of course, as a painter. There’s another scene later where Louise sets up a tableau that recreates something that happened in life for a painting. And this is very much this concept of placing people and whether they’re in front or behind. It’s just it’s all very relevant. And yet it’s also beautiful. It’s not didactic. It’s not films that is one or one because it is so beautiful.
S4: Speaking of being ahead versus being behind, of course, the big myth that ends up being embedded in this story is the Orpheus. And you read Myth, which later on they read Together Around the Fire with Sophie. It’s the of–in version of the myth. And that myth is all about who’s ahead, who’s behind, who is going to look behind, and we’ll get there. But you know, the kind of denouement of the movie really depends on that question of, you know, looking back at the person you love versus being able to move on and looking forward.
S9: So this relationship devolves very slowly between these two, as you said, Dana, and in part that’s because we spent a long time, along with Marianne, trying to figure Alawis out. Right. We know what Marianne needs. We know what she’s trying to accomplish on this island. But as she is to Marianne Elway’s is something of a mystery to us. We don’t know what drives her. We don’t know what she wants out of this encounter. We don’t know if she’s a danger to herself. We start to learn, as Marianne does, about her fears about the upcoming marriage. Her resentment of her mother, about the way that she mourns the future, that she doesn’t have, the way she loves music. And so we are starting to learn and fall in love with this person, as Marianne does. But one lovely thing about this movie is that it does not rush that relationship at all. And it forces Marianne to tell the truth to the woman that she is starting to fall for. Before anything can happen between them. So Marianne paints a portrait over the course of a couple of days based only on these sort of half-court glimpses, often from behind, as you say, Jane. And it’s perfectly lovely portrait. You know, it looks a lot like Adele hadow, but there is something a little bit lifeless about it.
S4: And it’s like placid, you know, I mean, it’s really strikingly painted. And there’s a painter named Ellendale Mayor who made all these paintings apparently in real time as the filming was happening. She was constantly painting in order to sort of keep up with the story. And it’s her hands that you see when you see Marianne painting. But she’s just so perfectly hit on what’s wrong with that first portrait, because it’s not a bad painting. If you say but there’s something conventionally feminine and pretty about it and there’s something about her gaze that seems very settled. And I don’t know, wifely you know, it really does seem like something that you would give to a nobleman to show him, see, this is wife material, which is just not at all the vibe that Elway’s gives off. I mean, she’s just this finally independent, right?
S12: We it’s a character. We mostly see her standing on cliffs or the wind blowing her hair every which way and delivering these penetrating gazes at Marianne or at the camera. And so this version of her fuels fake to us, even as it probably feels perfect. So contests, if she ever would have had a chance to see it. But she does it because Marianne passed the contest. If she can show Elway’s the painting first, she wants to come clean. She wants to tell her the reason that she’s been here and she shows her the painting.
S9: And Mary, I was crushed when Allawi’s first question, she says, is that me? Which is funny, but also a pretty potent question for someone who you are falling for to ask you. And Allawi’s just now love the painting. She does not feel it captures her head when she leaves Mary out in a fit of frustration, wipes the face off the painting and asks Louise’s mother for another chance. And Allawi’s mother wants to fire her. But Allawi says, no, she can stay. I will pose for her in a way that I never have before. I will let her paint me. I mean, clearly, that’s like a turning point of the movie, but that’s also a moment for me where I saw, oh, I now start to see what Halloween is, what’s out of this. She worries about what this painting will do to her life, but she wants this connection enough to risk that anyways. And that moment turns the plot of the movie, but it also turns, I think, us as viewers into equals with Mary and Louise as they find each other, as they find that romance.
S10: And now Louise wants to be seen. We learned that she never showed her face to the male portrait painter. She just absolutely resisted. But she wants Marianne to get her rights. I think you’re right, Dan, that she recognizes a connection that may. She also, I suspect, recognizes that this may be the only connection that she has. This is not something that she expects to have with the Milanese nobleman. But, yeah, it’s something that she values and that she recognizes. And I think, too, that there’s an important moment when Marianne comes clean, when she tells her. I’m here to paint your portrait. Louise does something that she had said she was going to do. She’d always wanted to bathe in this rough sea. And Marianne says to her, well, well, can you swim in? I don’t know. And says, what? You don’t know how to swim? You know, I don’t know if I know how to swim, which is very interesting, like referring to the unknown of even about yourself. But there’s also an element of when Louise goes out into this rough water that it’s important that Marianne doesn’t chaser, that she just sits and lets her go into danger to be autonomous. You know, she trusts her in a way that other people haven’t. That people have paid her to have companions on walks on the cliffs because they don’t think that she’s safe with herself. You know, it’s such a small thing, but it proves to Louise that Marion respects her. And that’s really lovely.
S4: And this idea that Louise’s identity is emerging over the course of the film made her identity as a lesbian and as a subject, just as a speaking subject, who has the right to not be married off to whatever guy has the right to not be a subject if she wants to be a subject if she wants. Right. I feel like that’s all really materialized in these several images that we have of the painting being done. But with her face completely blurred out, that’s how it looks after Marianne destroys it because she’s upset that her first placid version was not accepted by the subject. And don’t we also see that in the abandoned painting by the man who never finished it?
S13: It’s almost like a whiff of smoke.
S12: It’s one of the first things, variances when she gets to the houses, the abandoned painting that the male portrait painter attempted, which is a beautiful version of the dress that is to wear and her folded hands, but with just a void where the faces meant to be.
S4: Yeah, it’s almost from something outside the movie, like a horror movie kind of image. This idea of a perfectly painted portrait of someone with no face. A ghost. Right.
S12: And the movie is a ghost story. Even though spoiler no one dies. Right. On multiple occasions we see that pure idiocy. Aske image of Halloween is glowing in a hallway in the dress that she will eventually wear to her wedding. Maria doesn’t even know what that means. But it’s a spectre that she sees over and over again, anticipating the loss that she is going to face. And those are ghost stories scenes, too. Those are scenes from a ghost story movie. That painting with its missing face. That’s from a ghost story. It’s exactly how it reads as uncanny and spooky. And it reminds you over and over again that there’s a loss akin to death coming up in this movie and that because we are being delivered this story within the frame of Marianne remembering it, we are experiencing that loss along with her.
S4: Right. It it is all being delivered within the memory of her remembering it because we haven’t talked about it yet. But there is that cold open of the painting class many years later. We don’t know how many years that Ann is giving to a bunch of young girls. And one of them going through some stacked campuses at the back of the room finds the eponymous portrait of a lady on fire and asks about A-F and said that’s what this movie affords multiple occasions for that classic date night mumble.
S7: And the thing is that even though we only see that from a distance, we don’t get a close up. Like it doesn’t seem like a very good painting. At least that was my impression of it. Like it was seemed very hacky. That particular piece compared to the portrait that she’s been down, that everything else that we see. It just felt like, no, that wasn’t very good.
S12: It seemed like her attempts to figure out a way to portray this thing that she could.
S7: Yeah. And so she’s upset or mad when the student brings it out. Not only I think, because it reminds her of a time that’s, you know, very poignant and very emotional, but also because she’s not that happy with that painting. That didn’t kind of capture what was going on.
S4: We need to talk about the night that that painting came about. And in order to do that, we need to get into Sophie. Yes. And I feel like in order to get into Sophie’s experience and her portion in the middle of the movie, where she becomes really the most significant character for a short stretch, we should talk about the cat’s away portion of the movie where the contest’s leaves for an undisclosed reason for a five day trip. And that’s just about at the moment that the two young women are starting to realize that they have some kind of connection. It’s also the moment that Sophie reveals to the two of them. Or maybe just to Marianne that she’s pregnant against her will. Right. And Marianne asks her, well, do you want to be and do you want to do something about it? And so we start to get this sense that the slightly older and slightly wealthier women are going to help find a way for this servant to get an abortion.
S10: And it also is an opportunity for Marianne to reveal to Louise that she is sexually experienced, that this has happened to her, too, which allows us to have, you know, love. She says it that way and then suddenly they’re off again. We now walking off on the cliffs. But this time it’s with a purpose because they’re looking for some plants, which Sophie knows what they are and she knows how they should look and what stage of life they have to be in. So that, you know, to be on a board to be. And you pronounce that word.
S4: And how is it that they end up at the fireside with all the singing women? That was part of the same excursion where they’re looking for the IRBs.
S12: As I said, listen, I’m still at work. Yeah. So they brew, you know, a tea out of those herbs that they have found. Sophie does that same thing where she’s like Heyne by her hands for her. Laughter. As long as she can, while, meanwhile, isn’t very hot or having this deep conversation that’s interrupted by Sophie folino.
S14: Sorry. It’s like comedic, but also awful.
S12: But it doesn’t take. She feels she must still be pregnant. And so they go into the village because Sophie knows that there is a woman there who can perform abortions. She finds that woman at the fireside and asks her, Am I so pregnant? And what can I do? And the woman says, Yes, you are still pregnant. And you can come to my house in two days and I will do this for you. But that is how they come into the village and they come I who in a very yes, it’s a bit late at night and a beautiful gathering of a bunch of village woman around a big bonfire. And we don’t know anything else about it. We just know these women are there. There are no men to be seen. And in the middle of this gathering, the women break into this beautiful song, which at first doesn’t seem like a song.
S14: Right. First sounds like the humming of Bee. Yeah.
S15: First, it did seem like something from nature, which I guess it is like a drone. And then suddenly it transforms into a very beautiful song that people seem to know or to be able to find their way into.
S4: It’s an extraordinary moment in the movie because there’s so little music, there’s no extra biogenic music, right? There’s no music laid in by Celine syama, the filmmaker. All the music that we hear is music that the characters are hearing, too. And there’s only three instances of music that I can think of in the movie, and they’re all incredibly important. One is that song Around the Fire and the piece that they sing is really striking because it feels at once period appropriate and not period appropriate. It seems strangely modern. It also is incredibly professionally song for a bunch of old ladies around a campfire. But it’s a really haunting moment and one of the moments where the music in this movie just appears out of nowhere. It’s a very silent movie in general, right? Extremely spare here. The sound designs to the time and just really creates this sort of rapturous which like sense almost as if it’s a coven meeting around the fire.
S12: So the piece is called Legend Philadelphia was co-written by an electronic music producer called Parel, One who worked on Celine Salma’s previous films, Water Tomboy, and then a composer named Arthur C. Mignini because he had experience with choirs. I guess I’m getting this all from a wonderful piece that Matthew doesn’t rule out slate about this song. It’s inspired by Ligeti, his Requiem, which, you know, from 2001. But it’s not a direct rip of that. It’s not an adaptation of that. That was their inspiration. And instead, sort of what they created was this to me, what sounded like a somewhat authentically old folk version of a kind of him like a folk song, him and their singing on Don Possum for Gary, which is basically like I am trapped or I cannot escape. And then at the coda, they saying, no, sorry, sir, Jeremy’s. Which means we rise, which is incredibly on the nose.
S10: And, of course, you know, had to be in Latin or else it would have been too obvious.
S4: But in that kind of spiritual exaltation that you feel and that scene and that you feel the characters are feeling in that scene, I think we get to another of the big themes of this movie, which is not just women falling in love and finding freedom and an escape from the patriarchy in both love relationships and friendships like they make with Sophie. Right. These alternate social structures, but also women making art and. And that’s a moment that you hear these women around the campfire, you know, really creating this work of beauty together. And that helps inspire the painting that we’ll talk about. That comes about later.
S10: Right. Because Louise kind of loses herself, because we know from before that she loves music. She doesn’t necessarily know much about music. She doesn’t seem to be able to play any instruments or.
S4: I never heard an orchestra. Yeah. Yeah. Which is really points to her isolation. Right. She’s a member of the upper class. And yet she has not been able to be any part of the culture that that should make her ready to.
S10: We learn that she goes to mass, not because she’s religious, she has no religion, but because that’s the only place where she can hear music. And in an earlier moment. Marianne plays under the dust covers. She plays harpsichord and she plays effectively the summer section of the Four Seasons right by Vivaldi. And kind of narrates in this beautiful way where she’s talking to her. Oh, there are the bees, you know, in that weather. I love it when people do that.
S16: I mean, it’s the only good thing in Philadelphia, you know, when Tom Hanks talks, you know, that gray area. Like, I just love when people can do that.
S8: It’s a great art and I think it’s great. But let’s say you’re a great riff. And Louise is so moved by that.
S13: I mean, as we are to I said, beautiful, of course, like that’s anybody would get their panties off when they hear that.
S11: You did it burst out the harpsichord and she only slipped her fingers and there’s a bib.
S10: So when we’re at the bonfire, Louise is so moved that she loses track of where she is and she effectively steps into the fire and her dress is on fire. It’s kind of weird because she didn’t seem to receive any injuries or any harm from this. Maybe that’s the benefit of these big skirts.
S8: But she has burned through like seven.
S4: I mean, a brief sidebar on the clothes in this movie, which are quite remarkable. I mean, their period costumes, they’re designed by Dorota Agero. Apparently syama also has a very close hand in costume design in all her movies. So I’m sure she worked closely with her, but a little bit like the emptiness of the house. I feel like the costumes are deliberately stripped of specific signifiers. You know, there’s no frills. There seemed to be no sort of like decorations or buttons or lace. They’re just these very deconstructed ideas of clothing of the time. And there are a couple of scenes, especially some erotic ones later on, that involve the unlaced thing. Of course, it’s et cetera. But this is not a movie that fetishize as feminine fashion. Right. I mean, it sort of breaks down 18th century female garments into these very basic and again, somewhat modern structures. It’s almost like. The clothing equivalent of that Ligeti piece being repurposed as a piece of folk song that scenes with corsets being laced up.
S10: Yeah, of course. Yes. Right. Yeah. That’s indeed a very moving scene. And you know, the reappearance of the white dress, the presentiment of the wedding dress. But there are these scenes like when we first see the posing dress, this green dress, which is we learn the only fancy dress that Elvis has. Because she’s been in the with the Benedictines and only has convent clothes. There’s this great scene at the beginning worth it appears that the dress is coming down the stairs on its own. Then we see that actually Sophia is holding it. She’s not wearing it. She’s just carrying it as if it is almost like a person.
S11: But then later, she does wear it when she poses, as Mariane is trying to paint without seeing Allawi is another great thing about the costume design is that there’s just really a limited number of costume. Yeah. Yeah. It accurately reflects what life was like in this place when if you’re Alawis, you only have one fancy dress. When if you’re married, you’ve brought everything with you in one bag on a boat. And so you really only have two things to care.
S7: And I loved the penny that she has with that she can’t always wear because until she kind of gets relaxed with everybody, she has to keep her dress revealed when other people are watching her. But once she has confidence with the people, she can wear her lovely coverall, which is such a great piece of clothing, her painting smar her painting, smile.
S13: Yeah, but you also know all of that had to fit in that tiny bag. She has to schlep in general.
S4: This movie pays a lot of attention to material culture and the material culture of the time. And I love, for example, the role that food plays in it, which is not exactly pointed up. There’s not close-ups of the table or anything like that, but there’s a lot of attention paid to what little food they have. It’s a little bit like the clothes. You know, there’s no refrigerator, obviously. There’s just these small amounts of locally produced food that are sort of sitting there waiting to be eaten. I really craved that early meal that Marianne has where she just has a hunk of cheese and bread and a little cup of wine. It looks so great. But, you know, the meals that they make over that kind of chafing dish together with the maid and they each serve themselves a bit of there really is, I think, a sense of the sparse material culture of that time, even for people that were members of the upper class. So we got to talk about Sophie’s abortion, because that’s kind of the next big plot point. And it’s also really the culmination of a lot of themes in this movie, as I was saying, the art making. Right. The female friendship, the isolation and desperation of women that are free in a way on this strange island of all women. But you know that out in the real world are still obviously subject to the whims of men, including whatever man it was that impregnated Sophie. We don’t know if that was, you know, a consensual relationship or how it all came about. But we do know that she very much wants out of that situation now. And she’s quite young, Sophia. She seems to be a teenager.
S16: Maybe it’s it’s really hard to read, but she’s much smaller than Mariane and Elway’s. And so it really comes across that she she seems like she’s from another generation, whether she is or she isn’t. She just reads, as you know.
S4: Right. And she’s maybe slightly more childlike than them, maybe more sheltered, although she also seems she also knows who does the abortions. Right.
S10: She knows what to do when you have your period and it hurts or you want to stop it, I guess. And I wasn’t quite sure what she was doing with the terrorist threat.
S12: She’s a child like, but she clearly has more experience that will ease your example.
S4: All right. So they end up visiting this woman who is the abortion giver in the village. And there’s this really incredible and quite contemplative scene. I mean, not sort of the grueling, gory bloodbath scene that you might have expected is not Vera Drake. You know, there’s a strangely almost peaceful but also melancholy scene of her going through this abortion at the woman’s house. The most extraordinary detail of which to me was the little baby on the bed. And I don’t know if that was something that was thought of at the time or it was something that seemed scripted in. But, you know, this idea that in those days when abortion was something that you went and did at the house of the one lady, the midwife, presumably, you know, the sort of person who helped birth babies, and you have people not have babies in the town, has babies herself. And that everything takes place in this matrix of, you know, multi-generational families living together.
S5: There’s no fake bed in a in a doctor’s office. It’s just the bed. Right. But that she sleeps in and her babies are playing on. Right. Yeah. It’s just in the house. Probably the only room in the house.
S4: Just the extraordinary irony, but also kind of the gentleness of this moment that as Sophie is undergoing this procedure, you know, she’s looking over to her. Right. And there’s this chubby, little rosy baby just staring into her eyes, holding her hand.
S12: And while that’s happening, marryat and Alawis are in the room. And you remember what happens between them, which procedures, what is about to happen in the next couple of scenes, whereas the marijan looks away and Alawis tells her, no, look, look at what’s happening. Good God.
S4: Right. And interestingly, it’s the artist who looks away. Right. And it’s I don’t know what you’d want to call her, the subject of the artist who who somehow sees that this is what needs to be seen.
S12: The artist who has talked about how because she is not allowed to pay. Naked men, the traditional great subjects of art are not available term. And then that same night. Back at the house. Louise sort of presents to her a different way of thinking about the subjects of great art. When Sophie can’t sleep and they can’t sleep and the fire is going and they don’t know what to do. Louise arranges herself and Sophie automat on the floor in the exact positions that the midwife and Sophie were in during the abortion. And she tells Maryanne, Paint this. And I love that as a kind of argument about, well, what are the true subjects of great art and can we change the way we think about those things? And Marianne paints have dashed off the lovely painting on a board of that moment between those two women. And I think sees and starts to understand a lesson about the art that she can make. Which we then see happen in her very different version of Orpheus and her to see that music at the end of the film.
S4: Right. I mean, do you remember I’m not quite sure where it is, but it’s when they’re starting to really fall in love. I think it’s maybe after they’ve slept together for the first time that there’s a moment that Louis says to Marianne, do all lovers feel like they’re inventing something? And it’s such a romantic line, but also very directly points to the fact that they are inventing something not just in their own minds of sort of discovering what it is to be in love or discovering that, you know, queer love exists, but that they are collaborators. You know, that you get the sense that not unlike Selenium and Adele, Adele and lovers in real life who made something beautiful together, that if they had been able to pursue a life together, they would have made things together, you know, and that they would have discovered or invented a new way of making art, which is something that I think Elway’s is pushing for in that moment of the rendering of the abortion and whether that line early in the movie when Marianne complains that she hasn’t even seen Allawi’s smile yet.
S12: And Sophie says, well, have you tried being funny? And there isn’t a theme throughout the movie that all those exchanges require two people. There’s collaboration happening everywhere. When Louise finally laughs, it’s because maryanne’s relationship with her allows them to laugh together when they finally make this painting good. It’s because the subject and the painter collaborate together. It’s not just a matter of of observing a passive subject and then painting.
S10: While they’re not aware of it again later on when they are more intimate literally, and when they know that the end is near, when you know mothers returning. They’re going to have to say goodbye. They’re in bed effectively. And Marianne picks up one of her slits and does a very nice. But again, one of these nice, very sketchy portraits of Louise. And Allawi says, well, I want one of you. And, you know, she sets up a mirror and she makes her do one. So it has to be mutual. It can’t just be the painter and the subject. There is this feeling of mutuality, which is new and different. And again, I think you’re right, would be something different, would be a new kind of art that unfortunately doesn’t really get made.
S11: Here’s this movie, though, as an example of that.
S13: I insist down that there isn’t a lot of action in the movie. Toward the end, in the final coda, there is like suddenly all this plot that unspools, like way too late.
S8: There was more plot that in the rest of the film altogether.
S10: And there is a little bit of mutuality there that we find that we’ll get to it when we get to that moment. But that actually Luisa’s has kind of made a reference back to. Right. It’s kind of put some code out there that only Mariam would ever recognize if she were to see the portrait that she sketches on page 28 of the book.
S4: Right. That becomes the keepsake that Louise can take away is a self-portrait. It’s a portrait of Mariane reclining nude in bed.
S9: And she paints it based on a reflection of a mirror that Elway’s is placed right over her crotch and fig leaf style.
S17: Yeah, leaf style. And so there’s this beautiful shot of El Louise’s body, blurry out of focus in the background, but then the mirror with Marion’s face as she intently sketches herself perfectly in focus in the mirror. It’s like a great moment of focus pulling, but it’s also like such a great, perfect encapsulation of like twenty seven thousand different themes of this movie in one shot.
S4: Right? Not unlike the measles ç¥ to be French again of that moment I mentioned earlier where the geography of the turning faces on screen says everything that you need to know about the relationship. There are other Mira moments like that too. I believe when the various portraits are being carried up and down and and placed in the kind of studio room that Mariane’s painting, and there’s many moments where you see something only in a mirror before you see it in real life. And just a lot of attention paid to kind of deflecting the gaze of exactly what you’re supposed to look at. And the movie is just so smart and exquisite in that way. I just love to see a movie that’s smarter than I am as a viewer. You know, that never gives you that feeling of we get it, you know, totally in.
S7: But, yeah, it’s it’s very flattering in that regard. And you brought this up earlier, both of you. You know that the ovid’s story of metamorphosis is something that is part of their lives when it’s just the three of them in their. Little, you know, play time because Luis is reading it. A load for them and it’s a lovely moment because it’s like the power of literature. They’re so into it.
S9: And somebody never heard the story. Yeah. I just want to know.
S8: You know what? Why did you why did you turn up so good?
S13: And it’s about rules like the rules say, like, why did he break the rules? So this is a story of Orpheus and Eurydice C and which I have to just bring up the most pretentious thing I’ve ever said, although I believe I’ve said that line before and this kind of situation. I recently saw a fellow, Edward Liddy J. At the Met. The opera Monteverdi. No, it’s good. But it’s these days usually played as it tries a role that I feel is a mezzo mezzo soprano singing a love song. You know, the greatest love with his wife. But we know that it’s a woman. And I recently saw it with Jamie Barton, who’s an openly bisexual singer, who played it very romantically, very I would say very gay in a way. And that was so great. Just, you know, this thing which has these other resonances of forbidden love or, you know, love that will overcome all manner of obstacles. You know, what a fantastic, very subtle way of introducing that.
S18: Remember what Elway’s says after Sophie gets so angry that Orpheus looked back? She says, well, I mean, maybe she wanted him to. Maybe she said something that catches attention. And I love the idea of Halloweens being like, I mean, maybe you’re right, as he would just rather be in hell.
S8: Hi, this M.A.D. Noble Morpheus.
S4: That is really key what she says, because it introduces agency into the story of Orpheus and your reality. Right. She’s not just a beautiful woman receding into the night because the man made this bad choice of looking back. She asked him to look back. And of course, it also comes up in the last moment between the two women, which we’ll get to, which. Oh, man. I get chills just thinking about that scene. I love it.
S7: What else do we want to talk about between reading Orpheus, painting Sophie and the end of the movie, which is done very you know, it’s it’s not an whatever rated movie like they’re naked, but we don’t other than kissing, they’re not you know, it’s not an existent blue is the warmest color.
S19: It’s really interesting because I remembered it as being a lot more explicit than it actually has. And I was like, man, I wish I could, like, show my 14-Year-Old this movie. I think it’s eventually, but no way. There’s way too much sex in it. But then I watched the second time and there actually isn’t that much sex. Yeah, there’s a lot of naked lounging sort of post sexual stuff, but there’s like a great spit swap in kiss, but there’s no bone. And I guess that’s the inappropriate term sex. But yeah. So now I sort of think I will watch it with Lyra. I think that she will get a lot out of this movie.
S18: So they fall in love. They share these magical two days together, basically, while also creating art while also finishing this portrait, including, you know, both of them assuming the position together of the subject. Both of them assuming the position of the painter, both of them standing behind the canvas, looking at it and talking about it. And then the painting is done and the relationship is done. And Marianne straps Alawis into her corset one more time because her mother has come home. Her mother loves the portrait. She says she pays Marianne her money. She asked Louise to come with her. And Allawi says, OK, I just stay one hour. Runner says, no, come with me. Now I have something to show you. Mary gathers her things. She has to say one final goodbye. And in that room, Louise is standing in her wedding dress. The wedding dress. We’ve seen the Mariana seen in these spectral images before. And they hug each other goodbye desperately, but not trying to reveal anything. Marianne walks down the stairs with her bag over her shoulder, and as she opens the door, she hears alleyways behind her on the stairs and she says, Turn around and around. And she does. And we see that same image of her, of Louise in wedding dress for just a second. And then the door slams and it goes dark. That’s the last moment we see in that time.
S4: Is there an actual fade to black or does it just go dark because the door closes?
S5: I think we don’t know.
S4: But but there is that sense of being of a very you’re ready attuned sense of being pulled back into a dark space.
S11: It’s sudden and jarring. And I don’t know if it’s because Mary closes the door because she can’t take it or because Sally Insh’Allah closes the shutter to take us away.
S4: But that is it’s that sense of receding into the darkness. Yeah. And it’s a really powerful ending because the aridity parallel is not pointed up, but it’s obvious there also. I want to see it again to confirm this. But I believe that she says Torn Trois, you know, that she speaks in the informal, too, at that moment. And they’ve been Veuve weighing each other the entire time of life for almost the entire movie.
S9: And I think toward the end, and especially in that moment, they too, trois. And it’s very notable. Of course, it’s like no way to translate that in English.
S7: I missed that completely because I earlier said to Dan, monkeyed you believe all that booing. And he said, well. So I missed it. So maybe for the international audience, that wouldn’t be. He overplayed, but very subtle.
S4: Yeah, and just one of those moments where, you know, this movie gets the details right. It’s thinking about every linguistic and visual detail, extra idea. The movie could have ended right there. And I thought that that torn trois and rushing back into the dark would be the ending and it would have been a satisfying one.
S14: But I’m really glad I left out the best thing I’ve ever seen.
S8: Exactly. Exactly.
S6: So then we have to get to the coda and the musical moment of this movie that is just so transect.
S14: That’s not even a moment I’m talking about. I’m talking about page 28. Yeah.
S18: So earlier when they’re lounging, when she paints that self-portrait of herself for Halloween, she paints around page 28 of her book. And she says, you can always look at this and remember me. And years later, the other end of the frame is Marianne in Milan living her life. And she goes to a salon where one of her paintings is being shown and then paging through the catalog, she sees another painting listed and she goes and it is revealed to her as it is revealed to us, it is a later painting of Alawis with her daughter done probably at the request of her husband. And we are struck, as Marianne is, by this painting, by how beautiful she still is, how much older she still is, how different it is from the painting that Marianne made, how much it resembles the first painting she made. But then we zoom in closer and we see that Elway’s has given Marianne, who she doesn’t know will ever see this painting, a gift and that gift as she is holding a book in her lap. And in the sort of classic Renaissance tradition of coded messages delivered via hearts, she has held the book opened to page 28. And that moment is the moment that just like sent me here to the theater. And I don’t know that I’ve ever had like a tiny little plot revelation hit me that hard.
S6: Yeah. Oh, yeah. No, that’s another those moments where the detail is all. And again, the movie could have ended there, but then we wouldn’t have gotten then we wouldn’t have gotten my moment that. Yeah. I think that as far as just pure ecstatic transport in a movie in twenty nineteen, it has to be the very ending of this movie which is on this same visit to Milan. I’m kind of assuming it’s a visit. I feel like you’re right. If she she’s there to go to the salon next door she’d be stalking her. But on that same night they go to or separately.
S5: I mean. Goes to what? We don’t know what it’s gonna be. I figured it was gonna be the opera, right. It would be speaking a base person. I thought it would be offered every detail. But no, come on. Much better.
S6: And so the musical piece being performed this night in Milan in this gorgeous opera house with, you know, just so perfectly made for the sightlines of, you know, people checking each other out across different balconies, et cetera. Is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which we heard a little bit of on the harpsichord earlier between the two women. I mean, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is one of those extremely familiar pieces of baroque music that’s been used in so many movies and so many dentists office, you know, and it’s in a way, sort of the Monets water lilies of classical music where it’s become so overfamiliar we don’t hear it anymore, but for whatever reason. I mean, it’s for one thing, is it really great performance of it by whatever orchestra they got?
S4: But just because of the meaning that it’s taken on, you know, that it’s about a storm that was described so dramatically, as you say, in the scene between them and a scene about a thunderstorm and passion and being kind of overwhelmed by the elements. Right. And there’s just this long, just mercilessly beautiful shot of Louise’s face, as seen, we assume, by Marianne from across the Opera House, just listening and sort of shuddering in in passion, in sadness, you know, in in reflection on the time of her life and the possibility of her life that’s been lost in her associations with this piece of music. And it is a really gorgeous and in a way, emotionally cathartic piece of music. And you just listened to her listen for the entire time and watch her listen. And. And that’s the final image of the movie.
S11: There are a bunch of amazing things that happen there. I think choosing the Four Seasons was such a good choice, not only because of the meaning of the music, but because it has to do a bunch of jobs there for us. Right. We have to be able to identify that piece of music as the thing that we heard know playing on the harpsichord. The fact that she narrated it and told us the story of the music allows us to make that connection. The fact that to us it’s something a little bit familiar helps us make that connection that we otherwise might struggle to make. But what’s also happening during that scene and what I love so much about Louise’s response is it’s not that she immediately thinks back. It’s at first she has to recognize the piece as we do. She probably did because it’s 1760 or whatever. She never heard that piece again after the time that it was played for her on the harpsichord. You never told her it was all these forces, right? She doesn’t know how to find it. She can’t, like, scream, so she can just Shazam it. Right. And so this is probably the first time she’s ever heard it since then. And she remembers it just as clearly as we do and the recognition that comes to her and then the sadness that comes to her. And then the happiness at the end she ends that scene.
S12: Even though tears are running down her face, she is smiling and like the gift that that is to ask the audience into that character, to let us walk out of this, knowing that no matter how sad the separation of these two characters is, that that memory is one that will console and sustain her for the rest of her life is like so wonderous. That was a really sent me on a real wild ride.
S4: Yeah, it is. It feels like a ride watching her. And also because it’s a phenomenal piece of acting on Edell and ls part, right? I mean, I don’t know where she’s going in her method to dredge up the emotions that that cross her face there. But it’s so much more than sort of I’m moved by this piece of music. It’s like entire stories and histories are scrolling through her brain. It also made me think for the first time of Vivaldi, who again we think of is this sort of nice, pleasant, baroque composer as a really passionate composer. There’s something very sexual about that kind of descending figure that occurs again and again in the summer.
S16: And also that he had this weird life of like composing in Venice with his orchestras of goes like I’m sure there are other elements that if only I knew more. Oh, I don’t know.
S14: My Vivaldi gossip hookups of of all the gossip now.
S13: And just to give back to to Luis, which I agree with everything you both had very, very beautiful, just amazing acting in that way, that when you’re going to put acting so much in the spotlight, it has to be brilliant. And it was beyond what you could have hoped for. Again, just as you said, it gives you this message and it also kind of sends you back to where at some point there’d been somebody said, you know, regret and and Allawi said, no, not regret. Remember? Yeah. And some it is, you know, again, just remember, just memory.
S6: Right. And so it ends up being this this really tragic but strangely uplifting message about the power of art. Yeah. All right.
S9: So anyways, the movie is pretty good.
S8: Yeah. We’ve talked to know about it longer than it.
S20: Do you recommend it? It’s all we have.
S14: We’ve talked longer than the movie itself. Run. You know, we have not that much shorter. It is two hours long. I could talk about it, but we should probably cut it.
S6: I mean, I just really hope that even people who resist subtitled movies, you know, wants to read. No, no, it’s true. You don’t need to even understand the language practically to get what’s going on. But, you know, even if you’re someone who I know that when I started to post rapturously about this movie on Twitter, it’s just it’s very mockable to sort of say, like, you’ve got to see this french-led. Yes. I said this incredibly spare, you know, artistic, lesbian, French period film. I mean, it does sound like it’s sort of for the arthouse specialist, but it’s opening on Valentine’s Day for a reason. I can’t imagine a better date movie. It would be so romantic to see this for the first time with a person that you were crushing on or cared about. And then just go have drinks and talk about it. I mean, that is the stuff in your armpit that night is going to end up with a mirror in front of somebodies crotch. That’s all I’m saying.
S12: If you are looking to get lucky, anyone, this is definitely the movie to go to and then to later lose your lover in a tragic societal mishap. I never see that.
S8: Except through art. Through art.
S6: All right. Well, I don’t know when I’ve talked to two people who are as completely with me on the beauty and brilliance of a movie, I’m really glad that neither of you were here to be haters, haters on this.
S14: You’re wrong.
S4: And I would just send people again to not only seeing this movie, but why you get the chance. Go on Criterion and watch the previous three saliency army movies. They all in their own way are just as artful, thoughtful, beautiful. I feel like she just got a very strong emerging filmography and she’s somebody that if you care about movies, you should be keeping an eye on writing. All right. June, Dan, thanks for coming in to spar with me. Let’s do it again soon.
S5: Thanks for giving me this opportunity to relive this movie. Ideas, Ben. No, I do not remember me. To Jamie, our producer today with Rosemary Bellson, our engineer was Daniel Schrader.
S4: If you have ideas for Ribisi, I would like us to spoil or TV shows you’d like us to spoil. Slate In the future, you can always write us at sporting events at Slate.com.