Céline Sciamma is in the midst of enjoying the best reviews of her career thanks to “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which on top of rave reviews has grossed over $2 million and counting at the U.S. box office. The French writer-director often challenges the male gaze in her films, which is why it’s not too surprising to hear Sciamma is a big fan of Patty Jenkins’ superhero blockbuster “Wonder Woman.” In a new interview with The Independent to promote “Portrait,” Jenkins spends a considerable amount of time singing the praises of “Wonder Woman,” which the director says changed her life.
“It’s about feeling seen as a viewer,” Sciamma says. “’Wonder Woman’ is thinking about me. It’s thinking about my pleasure, about my sisters, about the history of cinema and women’s representation. It gives us joy but also rage. Like, ‘Why do I not get this more often?’ Now, we get it more and more, because there’s new writing for women, but it’s an addictive feeling. Once you know it, you want it.”
The first act of “Wonder Woman” features only one male character, while men are almost entirely absent from Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” The director says that removing male characters from the screen is an important creative choice that allows all viewers to break down privilege. Sciamma says men are “unaware of their privilege” because “90% of what we look at is the male gaze. They don’t see themselves anymore.” By removing or lessening male characters, films such as “Portrait” and “Wonder Woman” force men to re-contextualize their relationship to women characters.
Sciamma remembers recording commentary for the “Portrait” DVD release with a male sound engineer who was audibly surprised when a male hand appears onscreen in “Portrait” hours into the runtime. “He said, ‘I looked at my hand, because that’s the hand of a man,’” Sciamma says. “That’s what I wanted to do — there’s no man in the film, not as some kind of punishment, but as a way for them to go through someone else’s journey. You’ve been looking only at women and suddenly it feels different, weird. And that’s cinema, you know?”
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is now playing in U.S. cinemas and will join The Criterion Collection later this year. Read Sciamma’s full profile over on The Independent’s website.