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.
More videos like this
- Here’s another sample of Catherine Grant’s work that discusses Andrea Arnold‘s incredible 2009 film Fish Tank.
- And here’s another essay from Grant that deliberately destabilizes the many dance sequences of Claire Denis‘ 1999 film Beau Travail.
- Here’s another video essay that feels especially in conversation with Grant’s: Candice Drouet, on the many visual rhymes between Portrait of a Lady on Fire and other corners of cinema history.
- Here’s a video by Frames of Empathy, narrated by director Céline Sciamma, on how Portrait of a Lady on Fire captures the slow rise of desire.
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