By Andrew Harwood

Since its very conception, cinema has been a universal medium. And contrary to popular belief, cinema has a major presence in other countries aside from the United States. Shocking, I know, right?

As a result of the abundance of international films, there are hundreds of features that unfortunately go unseen by the average viewer. Maybe due to a lack of distribution, recognition or even the blatant dismissal of subtitles, foreign language films are not necessarily something people line up out the door to experience. This is unfortunate, since these films behold some of the most remarkable storytelling, imagery, score and emotions ever to be put on screen. 

That’s why, for this week in Cinephilia, we’re focusing on just that: foreign language films.

As self-explanatory as something could be, foreign language films are typical storybook narratives as films told through a foreign language. Aside from the foreign language though, the films typically also embrace cultural customs in order to hold tight to its country of origin. 

Some excellent examples (and definite recommendations) are “The Mirror,” “City of God,” “Il Postino,” “I Killed My Mother,” “Amelie,” “Parasite” (which just took home four Oscars at the 92nd Academy Awards), and, our film for the week, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.”

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” originally titled “Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu,” tells the story of a middle-class, late 18th century portraitist who travels to Brittany, France to paint a portrait of a young aristocrat woman who is set to marry an Italian nobleman. Upon arrival, the portraitist struggles with her craft, all the while becoming infatuated and involved with the aristocratic mistress.  

Starring Noemie Merlant as portraitist Marianne, Adele Haenel as bride-to-be Heloise and Luana Bajrami as Sophie, the estate’s maid, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” delivers a perfectly-crafted love story surrounding an even superior crafted narrative. Told mainly through dialogue, drawn-out stares, minimal score, long takes of portrait painting, astounding imagery and camera work, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” leaves the viewer begging for more, as the infamous “Storm” segment from Vivaldi’s “Summer” bellows through the theater. 

Written and directed by French Queer-cinema trailblazer Celine Sciamma, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a meticulously shot, poignant depiction of forbidden love, art and the power of contact.