Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

Why does Orpheus turn around?

The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is bound to frustrate its readers. The poet's action does not follow common logic. On a whim, he gives up the very person that he sacrificed so much to find. He ignores a simple instruction, the only one that he had to follow in order not to forever lose his only love. Céline Sciamma answers this question multiple times: Orpheus makes the poet's choice, not the lover's, by choosing the memory of Eurydice over her physical body. Or, perhaps, it was Eurydice herself who called him, having accepted her fate, and asked him to turn around.

Throughout the majority of Potrait of a Lady on Fire, Marianne and Héloïse do not face each other. When they first meet, Marianne lags behind Héloïse like a shadow. During their various promenades, they never stand side by side. This forces them to constantly, awkwardly turn around to face one another, with Sciamma's camera standing between them. The only moments when they are face to face occur when Marianne is painting – crafting, in a way, memories of her lover. When pushed to a corner, Marianne is compelled to turn around. When she finds Héloïse again, she can do nothing but sit, unmoving, and look.

Orpheus didn't choose to lose Eurydice, he was compelled. Like a memory, she dissipated the moment he got close to grasping her physicality. Like a dream, it ended at the very moment that it was about to reach its culmination. And no matter how much we try to scrape those memories together; no matter how much, when we wake up, we try to fall back into our dream, time always moves forward and blocks our way back.

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