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‘Ammonite’ vs. ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’: A Story in Three Checklists

Is this "Ammonite" or "Portrait of a Lady on Fire?" Who can say?
Is this "Ammonite" or "Portrait of a Lady on Fire?" Who can say? By Courtesy of Youtube/NEON
By Mira-Rose J. Kingsbury Lee, Contributing Writer

As every discerning film buff knows, movies can (and should!) be reviewed based exclusively on their trailers. “Ammonite,” director Francis Lee’s second film, now faces that very same fate. Originally meant to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, “Ammonite” –– or at least its trailer –– bears a great deal of resemblance to another film which debuted at Cannes one year earlier: the critically-acclaimed, intellectually challenging, cinematographically stunning French romance “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (this claim is only based on a small dollop of authorial bias).

A certain amount of factual similarity between the two period lesbian romances is undeniable. As a matter of fact, one minute into the “Ammonite” trailer, and any person lucky enough to have watched “Portrait” and still have a working brain may wonder if they haven’t seen something like this before.

For your viewing pleasure, The Harvard Crimson has assembled the following three checklists: the first being elements of the “Ammonite” trailer that seem oddly familiar, the second being a few things that seem exclusive to “Ammonite,” and the third counting those which are (so far) exclusive to “Portrait.” Feel free to watch the “Ammonite” trailer with the lists in hand and check off the boxes as you go along.

Things in the “Ammonite” Trailer That You’ve Seen Before:

An unnecessary amount of hindering garments (that will be peeled off to great effect later in the film)

Dark-Haired Main Character meets Blonde Future Lover and they fail to hit it off right away

Blonde Future Lover is tied, generally against her will, to a husband

The only man in the film makes an appearance

Shot of Dark-Haired Main Character looking at her work in a museum

Shot of Dark-Haired Main Character at work in her studio

Character plays one single key of a piano and/or harpsichord

Dark-Haired Main Character and Blonde Future Lover go walking on a rocky beach

Blonde Future Lover shot from behind (bonus points if her face is obscured by a head garment)

Climactic violin crescendo

Women sit side-by-side on the beach, discussing the ocean

Older maternal character notices their budding relationship

Deeply intimate close shot of hands touching

Dramatic shot of ocean crashing around big rock

Tearful embrace

Longing stare #1, 2, 3, et al

Things in the “Ammonite” Trailer That You Didn’t See in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”:

A slightly discomfiting age gap

A male director

Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet (overall a positive)

Real historical characters Mary Anning (Winslet) and Charlotte Murchison (Ronan)


The United Kingdom

Things in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” That Have Not Yet Appeared in “Ammonite”:

A sky that is any colour but grey

The epic context of a love story spanning several years between the writer-director Céline Sciamma and the lead actress Adèle Haenel


Fall foliage

A radical take on the female gaze

Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant (again, a positive)


Discourse on the flawed concept of the muse

A spirited discussion of the Orpheus & Eurydice myth

Digs at Sciamma and Haenel aside, Winslet and Ronan’s shared star power, combined with Francis Lee’s directorial potential, marks “Ammonite” as a film to watch out for. On Nov. 13 it will appear in theatres in the United States. And though a few questions remain –– is “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” one of the best romances ever made? Will “Ammonite” be able to distinguish itself from “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” one of the best romances ever made? –– only one thing is certain. This intrepid journalist will be first in line at the premiere.

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