Features and Columns · Movies

The Eerie Likeness of ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’

“I’ve gone back to my first love: painting.”
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire Ocean
By  · Published on January 19th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the visual and thematic similarities between Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Vertigo.

It’s always a treat when two movies rhyme with one another: when one image evokes another when repeated motifs echo, and when two movies enter into conversation with one another across decades of film history. One such comparison, as the video essay below suggests, exists between two titles separated by over 60 years: Vertigo and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Set in 18th-century France, Portrait of a Lady on Fire follows Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a fiercely independent painter who is summoned to an isolated island in Brittany for a strange job: to befriend Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), the young lady of the house, and to paint her wedding portrait in secret. Through exchanged glances and incrementally discovered common ground, Marianne and Héloïse grow closer and ultimately become lovers. Directed by Céline Sciamma, the 2019 drama is lyrical and incendiary, teeming with meaning-rich gestures, desire-filled stares, and an obsessive undercurrent.

Meanwhile, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller Vertigo sees a retired San Francisco detective named Scottie (James Stewart) tasked with investigating the bizarre behavior of an old college friend’s wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak). As his investigation progresses, the detective becomes steadily more and more obsessed with the woman he’s been tasked with trailing.

Superficial similarities notwithstanding, as the following video essay underlines, there are a number of interesting examples where the two films overlap, from enigmatic portraits to desire-filled gazes to churning water. Enjoy, and prepare to get obsessed with the double bill you didn’t know you needed:

Watch “Semblance (Portrait of a Lady on Fire & Vertigo”:

Who made this?

This video essay on the visual relationship between Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Vertigo is by Catherine Grant. Based in the United Kingdom, Grant is a video essayist, writer, and educator. She is the creator of “Film Studies for Free, Audiovisualcy” the co-author of The Videographic Essay, and the bright mind behind Filmalytical. You can find Grant on Vimeo here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).