Viewer (The art of Still frames and Gazing in Portrait of a Lady on Fire)

One of the first things I realized after watching the Film was the intentional use of long takes and still frames during the film, which are important elements in a Cinematography shot. According to Film Art an Introduction 12th edition, the framing of an event can directly impact a viewer’s impression of the event happening (Film Art 12th edition). There were a number of memorable still frames in the movie, namely the last shot, which was a 2 minute still frame that solely focuses on the face of Heloise. This intentional cinematography choice allows us, the audience to fully immerse ourselves into the characters’ emotions and mind. We were able to fully experience Heloise’s roller coaster of emotions from solely looking at her fascial expression, her eyes getting redder, her holding back her tears, and eventually letting the tears of yearning flow out. Although I imagined the 2 minute still frame on one person’s face to be boring, the last scene turned out to be one of the most impactful movie scenes for me as I was able to fully experience the character’s emotion vicariously.

Additionally, The still frames also contributed to the development of major recurring themes in the film, especially in the theme of gazing. For example, a large part of the film revolves around painting, which requires Heloise and Marianne to gaze at each other constantly. On a surface level, Marianne constantly gazes at Heloise to better remember her figure and her face for her figure for painting purposes. However, as the film progresses, the many still moments and still shots paused at each character’s face, showcasing their gazes, represent the development of Marianne and Heloise’s relationship as well as both of their growth. Initially, Heloise’s gaze was uncertain and lacked life; however, as the two characters’ relationships progressed, Heloise’s gaze became more bright and playful, especially after their act of intimacy. Near the end of the film however, as Marianne gazes across the podium at Heloise, it was very clear that her gaze was filled with sadness. Contrast, which is also an important cinematography concept, is also showcased here. Although Marianne’s gaze was filled with sadness, Heloise’s final gaze while listening to the music was mixed with a combination of reminisce, joy, and yearning.

7 thoughts on “Viewer (The art of Still frames and Gazing in Portrait of a Lady on Fire)

  1. I agree! The final shot of the movie turned out to be very impactful. It was filled with so much emotion that it provided an immersive experience to the viewer. I think I held my breath for those 2 minutes, it was a very gripping scene. Wonderful acting and cinematography.

  2. This is a great analysis. I noticed still shots throughout the film as well. The final shot portrays Heloise’s heartwrenching facial expressions that exemplify the memory of Marianne in her mind. Furthermore, The final shot is accompanied by an orchestral soundtrack that makes the scene even more dramatic! One of my personal favorite still shots was when Heloise caught fire. She looks down at her dress and notices that she is on fire but doesn’t seem distressed. Heloise then looks up at Marianne and appears to be in a mesmerized state, signifying her true interests despite her danger. Still shots like these best capture the excellent acting in this film and build emotion.

  3. David, I also recognized how often still shots were utilized and really enjoyed reading your post. In particular, I agree with what you wrote regarding how their gazes change as their relationship progresses. For example, the first time they meet, Heloise does not even look at Marianne until after she runs towards the cliff outside. Then, even by the beach after that, Heloise rarely looks at her. This contrasts significantly with the final portion of the film, where Heloise seems unable to refrain from looking at Marianne, especially her lips. Additionally, many of their interactions during their last few days together were full of smiles and laughter, which never happened at the beginning. I found it very impressive that I enjoyed the film so much despite the dialogue being in French and most of the plot progression happening through facial expressions. But as you said, the acting was remarkable, allowing viewers to stay engaged and interested in important scenes like the final one.

  4. David, this is spot on. As I watched the film, I also took notice of the still shots. I also do agree that their gazes toward each other do change but I think that this is actually a product of the gaze. I feel that the reason Heloise started to have feelings for Marianne is because of the constant attention and gazing that Marianne gave her. Especially for someone that has never felt love, noticing someone constantly gazing at you is something that can be very special and can lead you to reciprocate this gaze. I think this film perfectly portrays the power of the female gaze and the effects it can have on someone. I feel that the use still shots on these gazes emphasizes the power that they hold because with a still shot the viewer will focus on the thing in focus rather than the surroundings. The still shots allow the viewer to feel the power of the gaze. I also loved the final scene. The shot of the constant change of emotions of Heloise was very powerful and truly showcased the strength of their relationship.

    1. Hi Corey, I hundred percent agree with your analysis as well. I think the power of gazing is a big part of the film, and the constant gazes Marianne was giving Heloise eventually led to the evolution of their relationship.

  5. Your personal reflection on the 2-minute still frame of Heloise’s face added a subjective and relatable dimension to your analysis, demonstrating how effective cinematography can profoundly affect the viewer’s emotional engagement with the film. Although I say subjective, it was clearly intentional and I believe affected many of us in a similar way. I also liked your mention of the use of contrast and how it visually emphasizes complex emotions and character development.

  6. Great observations, David. Your analysis of the final shot of the film was particularly insightful. Well done. The contrast between Marianne and Heloise in the final scene was fascinating. The dichotomy between Marianne’s longing gaze and Heloise’s emotional journey throughout the scene was truly emblematic of their arcs throughout the film. Marianne’s lustful gaze summarized her thinking throughout the story since her genuine desire was for the person she could not have in Heloise. Moreover, despite her ability to roam freely and integrate her passions and interests within French high society, none of her artistic freedom would compare to her feelings for Heloise. While Heloise experienced a significant array of emotions throughout the concert scene because her isolated lifestyle created a deeply emotional person. In the scene, she is given a new experience of hearing orchestral music for the first time, and the music evokes memories of Marianne and the deep-seated emotions she felt when they were together. Furthermore, the ability to convey these emotions and piece the film together within one scene was genuinely fascinating.

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