French film about a lesbian love story features no men - cast and director explain why

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(L-R) A guest, Cast and crew Noémie Merlant, Céline Sciamma, Valeria Golino, Luàna Bajrami and Adéle Haenel attend the screening of Portrait Of A Lady On Fire during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/FilmMagic)
(L-R) A guest, Cast and crew Noémie Merlant, Céline Sciamma, Valeria Golino, Luàna Bajrami and Adéle Haenel attend the screening of Portrait Of A Lady On Fire during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/FilmMagic)

Director, Céline Sciamma, and leading actors discuss bringing to life the new film, Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, a French 18th century lesbian love story.  

The story is set on an isolated island in Brittany, it follows a female painter who must create a wedding portrait of a young woman. Over time their relationship becomes much deeper than artist and subject.

The film's three main actors are women — this was a conscious decision made by the writer and director.

"They are officially oppressed, so we know about the constraints — and she's forced to get married - we know that they don't have any really true opportunities so I didn't want to waste time [talking] about this," says the movie's director and writer Céline Sciamma explaining why she did not delve deep into the wedding element of the story.

READ MORE: Movies with women in the lead role do better on the big screen than movies with men leads study finds

"It's always, you know, about - especially with lesbian stories - it's always like you have to represent the fact that it's difficult. We know about it and I really wanted to show, not to tell the impossible love story but to tell the possible love story," she adds. 

"It's not to punish men sexually, also, not to instrumentalise men characters that would be the enemies. It's mostly about what's happening between them (the lovers)."  

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French actress Noémie Merlant says, "In this movie we are with women, they have the opportunity to express themselves, to express their desires, their art. They can smile, they can run." 

"It's not a political declaration, it's about, what if there were no men for two hours? So it's just a proposition for the audience and I think  it's also, like, it's almost funny how few movies like that exist," says co-star Adèle Haenel.

Compiled by Phelokazi Mbude

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