Portrait of an Economy on Fire | Sojourners

Portrait of an Economy on Fire

‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ reminds us what it's like to be on the margins; we make our own way together.

THOSE ON THE margins live by a different economy. In the film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the main characters live on the margins of a patriarchal society, and how they relate to one another shows creative care.

In the film, set in 18th-century France, a painter and her subject— a woman scheduled to marry a nobleman in Milan—fall in love. The painter Marianne is hired under the guise of being a walking companion to Héloïse, who, as a symbol of rejection of her forthcoming marriage, refused to sit for a previous portraitist.

After Marianne shows Héloïse a portrait of her she’s completed in secret, Héloïse criticizes it and agrees to sit for Marianne. During these few days of painting, Héloïse’s mother leaves, and the house and its economy rearranges.

Earlier in the film, the three women left in the house had strict roles and responsibilities. Héloïse went for walks, Marianne painted, and the maid Sophie served food. However, as love develops between Héloïse and Marianne, the household leaves behind the strict norms of aristocracy and assumes a much more egalitarian space. In a striking scene filled with role reversal, the lady Héloïse cooks, the artist Marianne pours wine, and the maid Sophie cross-stitches. On the margins of patriarchy, the strict delineations of class are thrown away, and the three share responsibility and care for one another.

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