How ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ Sees Power in Two Women in Love


When Marianne and Héloïse kiss for the first time, they’re on a beach, their faces wrapped in scarves to protect from the wind, and each pulls the scarf away from her own mouth. It is both the perfect physicality for their egalitarian relationship, and, Sciamma said, a reaction to a cultural debate in France about whether consent takes the passion out of sex. “That’s an image of mutual consent,” she said. “And it’s hot!”

Other creators have also toyed with the egalitarian possibilities of lesbian relationships, though perhaps not in such forthright ways. Take HBO’s “Gentleman Jack,” which began airing last year. Inspired by the diaries of a 19th-century English landowner named Anne Lister, the first season followed her and a wealthy woman named Ann Walker as they fall in love and, essentially, get married. Lister, with a top hat and waistcoat above her skirts, presents as very masculine, striding around Halifax managing her family’s estate. Walker, in poofy pink dresses and lace, reads, at least at first, as her opposite.

But there are surprises here, too: It is poofy pink Walker who invites Lister to spend the night, says they should kiss and suggests that Lister propose. They don’t stick to the road map either.

In the 2015 drama “Carol,” set in the 1950s, Cate Blanchett’s character, Carol, is older and wealthier than her lover, Therese, played by Rooney Mara. Still, their relationship is much more equal than the not-at-all-partnerships they have with men in their lives. Carol’s husband tries to control her using access to their daughter as leverage, and Therese’s boyfriend enjoys the idea of her while seeming inconvenienced by her actual interests and thoughts.

Even if their affair is dangerous, “Carol,” unlike so many movies about gay people, depicts it without a lot of angst.


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