Cannes whiz kid Xavier Dolan may be readying to premiere his latest film, “Matthias & Maxime,” at the French festival that helped put him on the map, but the Québécois creator appears to have already picked a winner for this year’s Palme d’Or. In a moving and effusive Instagram post, the “Laurence Anyways” and “Mommy” filmmaker hailed Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” as “magnificent” and a “powerful piece of cinema.” The film debuted to rave reviews this weekend, with IndieWire’s own David Ehrlich hailing it as “a painterly masterpiece.”
After completing a self-described trilogy of coming-of-age films — “Water Lilies,” “Tomboy,” and “Girlhood” — Cannes regular Sciamma has shifted her interests in the female experience to her first-ever period piece. Set on an isolated island during the latter half of the eighteenth century, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” features “Heaven Will Wait” star Noémie Merlant as a young painter commissioned for a strange endeavor: to craft a portrait of young bride-to-be (Sciamma’s frequent star Adèle Haenel) without her knowing. Intent on capturing the essence of her subject, Merlant’s Marianne grows closer to Haenel’s Héloïse in the lead-up to a wedding that doesn’t sound entirely happy, which culminates in an unexpected bond cast against dire circumstances.
The film marks Sciamma’s first foray into the festival’s Competition; her “Water Lilies” debuted in Un Certain Regard in 2007. While Dolan, who has debuted no less than six of his own films at the festival, including the 2016 Grand Jury Prize winner “It’s Only the End of the World,” is readying to premiere his latest at the festival later this week, the filmmaker’s praise for Sciamma’s latest is deep.
Dolan also wrote, “I loved the film in all its apparent, immediate qualities, but what moved me to my core is the secret, the mystery that pulsates in its every silence and stare. I also have to say that the relief and the intimacy I felt throughout the film watching women, just women, for two hours of my life, were a novelty I want to be seeking again. It is important to witness its possibility. I felt comfort here, both romantically and psychologically, in the absence of men!”
Dolan’s latest, “Matthias & Maxime,” will debut at Cannes later this week. Billed as “a drama focusing on a group of friends in their late 20s,” Dolan also stars in the feature.
Check out Dolan’s full Instagram post below.
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Even when I try I am unable to remember the last time I sat in a theatre and heard such delicate, such incisive and profound writing. Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of the Lady on Fire is magnificent! Adele Haenel’s performance is enrapturing, and although the film’s assiduous coldness is undeniably successful, the love declared to her through and by this story is the hidden force that made Sciamma’s film haunt me in my sleep. I woke up this morning remembering how constant the artistry of the film was, and how it impressed me. But like with most lovers who leave us behind, the hidden secret behind their gaze is what we fall for in the first place, and it is what troubled me so here. I loved the film in all its apparent, immediate qualities, but what moved me to my core is the secret, the mystery that pulsates in its every silence and stare. I also have to say that the relief and the intimacy I felt throughout the film watching women, just women, for two hours of my life, were a novelty I want to be seeking again. It is important to witness its possibility. I felt comfort here, both romantically and psychologically, in the absence of men! Thank you to Celine and all her brilliant collaborators who made this powerful piece of cinema. I look forward to seeing it again as soon as possible.