2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
“Do all lovers feel as though they’re inventing something?”
So rarely does a film leave you wide eyed and in total awe, but when it happens you know you’ve seen something special.
Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire is romance at its most soft and unspoken, but it is also a raging fire of lust, passion and intimate revolution. The depth of meaning fused into every shot, every dialogue exchange and every transition is so extraordinary that it’s one of the greatest arguments of film being “a true art form” that there has been this century, and the way in which Sciamma forces you to look at it, analyse it and interpret it is so fundamental not only to this point, but to ensuring that attention is brought to the experience of women, to the experience of lesbians, and to the craftsmanship of her directing and the nuances of the lead performances.
Featuring two beyond phenomenal portrayals from Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant as a young woman about to be married and the visitor tasked with painting her portrait for her would-be husband, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is not just the filmmaking masterclass outlined above, nor is it only that and an overarching message of the experience of women throughout history (or that and the historical misrepresentation/oppression of LGBTQ+ people), but it’s all of these things and still so wonderfully intimate, so beautifully delicate, so impactful, so felt. It’s like you swallow every caught breath, every side glance, every accidental touch. There is something so tangible and so simple about Portrait of a Lady on Fire despite its obvious depth, intelligence and layered intentions – a feeling of reality and/or relatability that so many well made films or even masterpieces can’t seem to recreate – and it is through this mix of outstanding, layered directorial artistry and genuinely emotional, passionate, tangible storytelling that a true modern masterpiece is born.
So rarely does any year offer a certifiable all-time great film, but Parasite is precisely that.
Much has been written about how Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece has transcended international borders, language barriers and cultural differences to be named by critics and industry awards shows as the film of the year. And perhaps it seems to outsiders like the typical and even uncreative choice for the number one spot in this particular list. But the reality is that no film has been this layered, this phenomenally balanced and this outstandingly authored in a long time, and even in a year as strong as 2020 for genre classics and form-shaping revolutionaries, Parasite stands out from the crowd as a special film.
All great art must reflect to us, most preferably through the expression of the artist/s, our true selves, and Parasite feels like a film that, for all of its creativity, all of its ingenuity and all of its expression, is absolutely true to the human experience; a piece of art that transcends the very medium it is made for to become instead a fable for our times.
Family clashes with class and with capitalism in this film that transforms so effortlessly from darkly humourous to righteously angry and never misses a single beat whilst hammering home the severity of our world’s inequality. To Director Bong, there are those of us born to have and those of us born to have not, and the way the world works makes navigating upwards an impossible challenge reserved only for those yet to have their eyes opened to the harsh, disturbing and unrelenting reality of our situation.
Meaning is power in Parasite, and re-watch after re-watch offers new insight, new perspective, new knowledge, into the meaning and the power of this quite extraordinary, year-topping, all-time great cinema offering.
Recommended for you: 10 Best Films 2019 – Joseph Wade
There is no doubt that 2020 will live long in the memory for each of us, the experiences of this year being unforgettable on a personal, societal and worldwide level. We have been well and truly punched in the gut; lives put on hold, stifled, and ended. 2021 will prove a litmus test for our collective humanity, but we must look beyond re-establishing the old ways and towards a better future for us as a species. In 2021, we all wish for unheralded progress towards a better world, and hopefully an avalanche of perspective-widening, opinion-shaping, humanity-nourishing moments that better our collective conscience. Hopefully there’ll be an avalanche of all-time great films too.
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