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Daily Helping for March 16th, 2021 – Portrait of a Lady on Fire

A photo still from the film Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The photo is a close up of Marianne and Héloïse with their foreheads touching, on the beach, with the ocean in the background.

There are so many things to love about Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It is a gorgeous film in every way, with every piece of it done stunningly well. The direction, the writing, the production design, the acting. All of it is superb. As a very smart friend said to me recently, it’s a film about a female love story that is completely absent of the male gaze, and I absolutely loved it. But what I will remember the most about this film, even years from now, is one line, right at the end, that made me gasp out loud.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell you what that line is, nor am I going to explain the context in which it happens. It’s literally one of the last moments of the film, and I’m not going to give away the ending. But I will say this. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a French film. I am currently learning French, and to be honest, it’s been a frustrating experience thus far. But I’m getting better, and whenever I watch anything in French, I try to glance down at the subtitles only when absolutely necessary. For this film, I was delighted to discover that I rarely had to consult the subtitles, but that’s not what made me gasp.

No, what made me gasp was that there is a subtle, but not insignificant plot point that is revealed late in the film, and it is revealed entirely through a convention of the French language. A character changes one word from the formal to the informal, and that small change is loaded with meaning. It is a beautiful but heartbreaking moment, and up until recently, I would have never understood the full significance of that scene, because there is simply no way to convey it through subtitles. But instead, I gasped out loud. It wasn’t until after the credits had started to roll that I realized what had just happened. Apparently, I understand French well enough to viscerally react to plot points revealed solely through language. And not going to lie, I was pretty darn happy about that.

So yes. I loved Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It is a fantastic film, even if you don’t speak French. But for me, I will always remember it as a significant step in my French language journey.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!