(Viewer) How different shots and camera techniques demonstrate different aspects of Marianne and Heloise’s relationship

In Portrait of a Lady on Fire, cinematographer Claire Mathon further delves into unspoken aspects of the relationship between Heloise and Marianne through the use of different types of shots. Through four different types of shots and camera techniques, the medium long shot of Marianne and Heloise, the medium shot of Marianne, Heloise, and Sophie, the handheld camera, and the zoom, Mathon shows different aspects of the two lovers’ relationship.
The medium long shot of Marianne and Heloise is used incredibly often in this film, and it represents the love between them. Throughout the course of the film they are discovering their relationship, and discovering the love that they have for each other. This is shown through several scenes where they are sat next to each other talking. In fact, the only instances where they speak and it’s not a medium long shot of the two of them next to each other is when Marianne is painting Heloise, or when they are arguing. In these two instances their conversation is filmed through shot-reverse-shot, portraying a conversation that is less invested in love, but in either work or argument. When they are conveying their true feelings towards each other, it is always seated or standing directly next to each other and shot in the form of a medium long shot.
On the contrary, the medium shot demonstrates the awkwardness of their situation. This shot occurs in two instances, when the three girls are at dinner, and when they are waiting to get Sophie’s abortion. In both of these instances Heloise and Marianne are on either side of the shot, while Sophie is moving around through the middle. This wider shot reveals the tension between the two lovers when there is another character in the mix. They’re love is obviously forbidden and frowned upon, and if anyone were to find out then it would cause several problems, even if it was a close friend such as Sophie. In these scenes, the two characters act incredibly awkwardly, unlike they act when they are alone together, thus representing the fragility and suspense in their forbidden relationship.
Another emotion displayed is uncertainty, which is seen through the shaky cam. The shaky cam appears in three distinct scenes, and it is supposed to represent Marianne’s perspective as she faces something unknown. The first is when she is on the boat and sees land ahead. As the viewer we have absolutely no context as to where she’s going or as to why, and all Marianne knows is that she’s going to paint a portrait. What lies ahead on that coastline is uncertain to both Marianne and to the viewer. The second time it is used is when Marianne first meets Heloise, and Heloise immediately sprints towards the cliffs. Marianne has heard that Heloise’s sister had committed suicide by jumping from the cliffs, and was therefore unsure as to what Heloise was doing, and if she was also going to kill herself. The third instance of the shaky cam was in a scene that echoed the previous use of the handheld camera. Marianne cannot find Heloise and sprints down to the beach. When I was watching this scene, I thought maybe Heloise had actually jumped and Marianne would find her body at the bottom, or maybe she was trying to sail away, or if she stayed maybe she wouldn’t forgive Marianne for what she said. As I was thinking these things while watching, the character of Marianne was also faced with these questions as she raced down the beach, trying to find Heloise and see what had come of her. Uncertainty is a constant throughout this film, uncertain whether the two shared feeling, uncertain as to whether she would try and stay, uncertain as to what their fate would be once Marianne left, and this uncertainty is perfectly portrayed through the handheld camera.
The final element of cinematography that Mathon uses incredibly well is the zoom. Instead of representing an emotion, there is one zoom at the end which represents a series of emotions presented through Heloise. We are placed in the point of view of Marianne as she sees Heloise on the other side of the theater. From Marianne’s position we cannot tell a lot about Heloise besides the fact that she is, in fact, present at the orchestra. But Mathon uses zoom to hone in as close as possible on Heloise’s face, as we get as close as possible, the camera sits for about two minutes. Once we zoom in on Heloise’s face and just sit there, we see Heloise slowly breakdown into tears as she listens to Vivaldi’s “Storm”, the piece that Marianne had played for her earlier in their lives. This zoom takes us from viewing Heloise from Marianne’s perspective to getting an in depth view into the psyche of Heloise. She is not over her week with Marianne and will never get over it. Her love for her will last for a long time, and the simplest reminder of her, such as hearing the song she played, will cause her to have a full breakdown.
Through using these different shots and camera techniques, Mathon exposes a more in depth breakdown of the relationship between two lovers that can only be realized through an analysis of her cinematography.

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