Awards Profile 2019: Céline Sciamma’s ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’

Welcome to the 2019 Awards Profile series, where we talk about films coming to a theater near you in the coming year (at least at this time of writing). The series analyzes the films and their awards season potential, most notably for the Academy Awards, based on the talents attached, filmmakers involved, and story and source material.  Monday through Friday until mid-May, AwardsCircuit will bring you a new and exciting project and discuss its chances for success. If you have a suggestion for a movie we should cover, include it in the comments section below. If you miss a film covered, click on the tag or category for “Awards Profile.”

FILM: “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”

DISTRIBUTOR: TBA
PRODUCERS: Véronique Cayla, Bénédicte Couvreur
DIRECTOR: Céline Sciamma
WRITER: Céline Sciamma
CAST: Adèle Haenel, Noémie Merlant, Valeria Golino
SYNOPSIS: On an isolated island in Bretagne at the end of the eighteenth century, a female painter is obliged to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman.

Scheduled Release: TBA

POTENTIAL HIGHLIGHTS:

As the 2019 Cannes Film Festival is underway, one of the most eagerly anticipated premieres is sure to be “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”. Centered on a burgeoning affection between a painter and her subject, this period drama boasts two of the most exciting talents in French cinema. Serving as writer-director, Celine Sciamma will seek to expand her flawless filmography, which includes three critically acclaimed directorial efforts as well as the Oscar-nominated “My Life as a Zucchini” as a screenwriter. Meanwhile, in front of the camera is 6-time Cesar Award nominee Adèle Haenel, a familiar face from such French favorites such as “BPM (Beats Per Minute)” and “Love at First Fight“.

If the film meets expectations, the pair – who are also partners off-screen – will likely be the main focus for an Oscar campaign. Notably, the film follows another lesbian-themed period piece which earned a field-leading 10 Oscar nominations this year. Though “The Favourite” may be a high bar to reach, the voters’ affinity for young French actresses – à la Isabelle Adjani and Marion Cotillard – could propel the film through the buzz generated by its potential breakout star Haenel. And after a banner year for foreign cinema in the Oscar nominations, the new Academy membership seems increasingly willing to embrace non-English films in major categories.

As a period drama, the film’s design and craftsmanship could otherwise be a major attraction. And if the latest promo images are anything to go by, the film should be ravishing indeed. With a strong enough campaign, the film could be in line for awards attention in such categories as Costume Design and Production Design.

POTENTIAL CHALLENGES:

As always, non-English films face an uphill battle to be recognized by the Academy outside of their designated category. The film would, therefore, have to be universally loved to make inroads into the major categories. This year has seen numerous foreign language films secure US distribution deals ahead of their festival premieres. Considering the film’s pedigree on paper, its lack of a distributor so far could be cause for concern.

POTENTIAL OSCAR CATEGORIES IN PLAY:

  • Motion Picture – Véronique Cayla, Bénédicte Couvreur
  • Director – Céline Sciamma
  • Actress in a Leading Role – Adèle Haenel
  • Original Screenplay – Céline Sciamma
  • Cinematography – Claire Mathon
  • Costume Design – Dorothée Guiraud
  • Production Design – Thomas Grézaud
  • International Feature Film

POTENTIAL KEY NOTICES FROM OTHER GROUPS:

  • Best Actress for Adèle Haenel (Critics Choice): With the typically expanded field of acting nominees for the Critics Choice Awards, a Best Actress nod for Haenel would be a key sign of support.

What do you think of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” as an Oscar contender? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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