When Marianne arrives in Brittany, she has a solitary task expected of her: She must strike a friendship with Héloïse in order to memorize her features for a portrait. This would obviously involve some level of deception, as Héloïse is unaware of Marianne’s mission, and has previously refused to sit for commissioned portraits. Although Héloïse goes on walks with Marianne on the beach, both her body language and gaze are guarded, as she is unsure about the newcomer. Marianne, devoted to her craft, regards Héloïse with the intensity of an artist, only for her scrutinizing examinations to evolve into tender gazes of longing. When Héloïse gazes back with the same passion, a spark of mutual love and longing is ignited.
“Portrait” paints a heartbreaking, bittersweet picture of two people in love, who are socially forbidden from ending up together, especially during the time-frame the story is set in. However, while Marianne and Héloïse’s romance is doomed from the get-go, their love for one another still matters, as it helps them grieve, evolve, and rediscover themselves long after the relationship ends. A relationship cut short, or one that never culminated, remains a love story — one that lives on through memory, desire, longing, and nostalgia for what could’ve been.
Marianne’s gaze contextualizes the love story between the two women, including the ending, in which we see an unguarded Héloïse expressing her deep love for Marianne without uttering a single word. Although Marianne only spends two weeks with Héloïse in Brittany, the romantic/erotic tension unravels unhurriedly, and the two communicate almost entirely by looking at one another. When not debating mythic figures, they turn to art to proclaim their love.