Run time: 122 mins
Love is a work of art in Céline Sciamma’s staggering subversion of the period drama.
In the 18th century, second-generation painter Marianne (Merlant) arrives by boat at an isolated manor. She’s been commissioned to paint a portrait of Heloise (Haenel) for her wedding, but is instructed by her mother to do it secretly, simply being a companion to Heloise. As they talk, Marianne discovers Heloise’s anger at being forced to marry a stranger while still grieving the death of her sister. Over the coming days, Marianne and Heloise become close, helping housemaid Sophie with a deeply personal issue while comparing views on music, painting and love.
Merlant and Haenel deliver wonderfully shaded performances underscored with brittle wit and seriously deep feelings. As they tentatively reveal their mutual attraction, they become more openly charming, yet still on guard.
This is a rare film that takes the breath away. Conversations get deeper and more revealing as the story grows, using firelight and music to add unexpected textures. Richly layered and painted with an otherworldly beauty, this is a sure-fire masterpiece in the making. (Research Chris Coetsee)