To hear the hype tell it, Céline Sciamma’s romantic period drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire, coming to theaters this December, is a modern cinematic classic. The French film was one of the most acclaimed titles out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, falling just short of the coveted Palme d’Or (which went to Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite), and winning the festival’s Queer Palm and Best Screenplay awards. Portrait has since secured a perfect Rotten Tomatoes score and U.S. distribution courtesy of Hulu and NEON, and as of today (Sept. 9), it has a trailer, too.
Allow the film’s synopsis to set the stage:
France, 1760. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), a young woman who has just left the convent. Because she is a reluctant bride-to-be, Marianne arrives under the guise of companionship, observing Héloïse by day and secretly painting her by firelight at night. As the two women orbit one another, intimacy and attraction grow as they share Héloïse’s first moments of freedom. Héloïse’s portrait soon becomes a collaborative act of and testament to their love.
The trailer itself, meanwhile, is a visually sumptuous overture littered with critical bouquets, and what little we see of the film’s central relationship is enough to suggest those accolades’ accuracy. Dual leads Merlant and Haenel exchange glances rich with longing, their paths slowly converging over the course of the trailer until they cross, bringing them face to face for what looks like the first time at a cliff’s edge. Marianne first views Héloïse as her subject, but soon the two women come to truly see each other, their connection demanding as much care and delicacy as the painting upon which their relationship hinges. Both are destined to go up in smoke, it appears.
Sciamma’s film screens at the Telluride, Toronto and New York Film Festivals ahead of its awards-friendly Dec. 6 release date. Watch Merlant and Haenel burn up the screen below.