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Portrait of a Lady on Fire

A film written and directed by Céline Sciamma

And here is how it is

Scored By Ali B. Lu




Available on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon ...

Director Sciamma chose not to use a score for her reasons that I absolutely respect. Though I have to see how such a precious film may become with my musical interpretation. Forgive me, I have to. Out of respect, I'm only posting them here.

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1. Marianne on her own

In a world of man, where Marianne is conventionally seen as the weak, she is the only one who can help herself, including jumping into the sea. The hypocrisy of patriarchy and masculinity broke by that scene like a snap of fingers. She is too brave to need anyone. Being strong yet delicate makes her whole and also alone.

I want the music to find its balance between the Baroque-Romanticism transaction and contemporary simplicity. When Marianne jumped into the sea, she became free from any expectations, that's where I let her theme come out, standing out from her usual state of thoughts laid by classical string instruments in minor tunes.

2. Arrival

Simple strings including Baroque instruments. The nighttime fireplace reappeared many times throughout the film, here I set the stage for the following content.

3. A silent death

Pipe organ and choir, that's the Héloïse in convent gown. Mysterious, distant, and somehow there's something secret within their first meeting. I worked "Summer" by Vivaldi into the passage where she's running toward the cliff since the piece will later be mentioned in the film. She did not die at that cliff. She came to life. In a way, like her sister, part of her old self died there.

​Church-styled music vs Baroque-Romanticism music, as interpreted in the film, implies the conflict between the old and the new, the restricted and the free. While combining the two, it also presents the two separated but intertwined levels of love, being both divine and expressive.


4. Outline from memory

I wrote this part like doing a puzzle. Instruments trying to put the pieces together, just like outlining a portrait from memory.


5. A coming storm


​In Pride and Prejudice (2005), Dario Marianelli worked Henry Purcell's music into the score. Alexandre Desplat did the same with Beethoven's Emperor Concerto in The King's Speech. I always wanted to try merging some famous pieces with my music. The metaphor of Summer by Vivaldi in this movie provided me with a chance. In this track, my goal was to combine Summer with the theme that I've written for Marianne, so that it may sound like a music from her memory or impression, which, of course, connects with some powerful feelings of her.

I took the competition video of 10-year-old Christian Li as reference for my composing. The track is split into two parts, it takes a break at 03:57 and reappears at 04:57. 


6. Girl's problem

When they're alone, the barriers disappear. Their old identities no longer define them. They are just girls, together, trying to fix a problem. Though the situation is troubling, the atmosphere turns delightful. When there's no power in the way, everything simply comes in harmony.  

To come up with a delightful and humorous tune for the beach running scene, I sought help from Mozart: Voi che sapete. 

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7. Candlelight portrait


The gentle theme continues into the following scene, and then the theme from the first night of Marianne's arrival reappears. But they are rephrased with the blurry texture of the night, sleepy and indulgent.

Thank God for the candlelights and night! Or else how would I still be alive? Where on earth would I survive? Please, shut my eyes and let me hide.

July 2022


8. Card game

9. Choice of poet

​The harmonic atmosphere continues among the girls. In this long passage, I mixed several previously appeared themes, from the opening scene, the jumping into water scene, the running on the beach scene... and of course, Summer.

As I appreciate the elegant simplicity of the film, I try to keep the orchestra small and the sound effect plain. The lyric of the vocal part is: Lacrimosa dies illa. 

While writing, I couldn't help but think, two years ago I didn't even know I could compose. Yet, just like this, suddenly, I, a feminist with doomed love life, a painter, a helpless romantic confronting the whole world, have found a language that unleashes my heart. It presented me with a glimpse of beauty before my cynical eyes, as if my last chance to take a breath. I don't know where my future lies. I only know I need to write. Or else, I die. Yes, it does sound like a poet's choice.



10. Lady on fire


I haven't been trying to make my scoring fitting to this original song on purpose. And I tried not to add up too much to contaminate its originality. I sought to extend its atmosphere. At some point I added Uilleann pipes. Mainly because the women singing in the film somewhat reminds me of Celtic chanting. It was kind of a random choice, seemingly not related to the rest of the film. I like how it may sound mysterious, strong, serious, pure and complicated all at the same time. It has been one of my favourite instruments of all time. 


11. The Nights

The beauty of doomed love belongs only to the bold.

Those who would give in to the nights


12. Abortion


I portrayed physical pain with string instruments. Then, for the mental pain, I wrote the following part like a lament. A lament to the life that's never been born; to the pain that's bared by a young woman; to the life pattern that cannot break free. This time I used a mumbling vocal sound, somewhat Gypsy, somewhat mystical, somewhat innocent. Ladies in the film remind me of chanting fairies. 


Again, just the three of them; again, a portrait in the night. The familiar theme has been repeated yet again. It ends at the dawn of another day. The sound of the birds seeping through the sunlight is just brilliant. All is refreshed. How beautiful.

I can't write this piece without going through some serious pain simultaneously. I sat down at my keyboard, attempting to pick out sounds and notes, and then, at a random moment, things I feel started to have melody. Tears, memories, remorse, desire, pain... all of a sudden, all become sounds. From that point, as long as I give myself in to my senses, I can find my way. I think that's the moment I'm closest to being free, closest to being me.


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13. Madam returns tomorrow

The most difficult one for me. Extremely pressuring.​ The fear of ending is way more intense than the ending itself. Reality always catches up, daylight has no pity. The track is split in two parts, it takes a break at 02:52 and reappears at 04:53. 


14. Turn Around


I used a modern piano only in the last track. Perhaps it is my hope for a new beginning for the characters. New life, new age. Set my sight to the future, live on with all the memories. Is the upcoming future going to be brighter for them? For us? I don't know.

The track is split in two parts, it takes a break at 01:35 and reappears at 02:25. The soundtrack finishes at 04:15, but I included part of the performance of Summer in the video since it is so relevant.

​These past two years have renewed my knowledge of farewells. Any thought of the past or future can strike me with pain. The only meaning of life remains within the love of a tiny moment of beauty that makes you willing to trade everything. A moment, in which life sparks and death no longer fearful.



 Behind the scene Facts

In the beginning, I chose the film mainly because it has no score and is perfect for practice. But while working on it, I realised that I fit just right for it, the attitude, the temperament, the simplicity, and style... I completed it while attending graduate school in Psychology. Both of them are my desperate attempts to reencounter myself. The major part of the music is made up of strings and woodwinds, including some typical instruments from the Baroque period. The using of the organs refers to Héloïse‘s old self, the piano in the end means to cast some hope to the future of the characters, as an important reference, the transformation of Summer by Vivaldi scattered everywhere throughout the film. All tracks are produced with my laptop and keyboard. There's a bit of my own voice in track 6, recorded with my phone. 


​This project saved me. It let me recollect the sparks of life, the moments of pure joy that make it all worth it. In the middle of city noise and the anxiety of being lost, it has been a luxury to slow down and live the moment. From there, through the tiny cracks of an F-ed up life, beauty sparks upon me again. I need more. I need more. I need more.

Available on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon and so on...

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