Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a truly stunning piece of cinema. Following a painter, Marianne, who is brought to an island in Brittany in order to paint a portrait of a young woman named Héloïse, without Héloïse’s knowledge, before she is married off to a Milanese man.
Céline Sciamma, who wrote and directed the film, has crafted a truly beautiful work of art in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. I didn’t really know what to expect from the film given the premise and knowing that it was about a relationship between the two central women, and I was blown away. The skill with which Sciamma directed the film was extraordinary. It is a very deliberately paced film, with Sciamma often choosing to linger on scenes with longer drawn out shots, almost creating portraits of the two characters with the camera.
The performances of Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel as Marianna and Héloïse respectively are just phenomenal. The chemistry the pair have is fantastic, and both give off so much through tiny movements and little flickers of emotion. Haenel really shines for me, as she takes Héloïse from a character clearly depressed by her situation to someone so full of light and life over the course of the film. And in the final shot manages to tell so much without ever uttering a word.
And all of this is brought together by Céline Sciamma’s beautiful screenplay. As with the pacing in the direction she takes her time in the story. It isn’t the world’s most complicated narrative, and she uses that simplicity to allow everything to unfold more naturally. The relationship between the pair, as well as the side storyline involving the maid Sophie, feels so authentic because it is given time to grow over the film. Despite this Portrait never feels as though it is dragging over the two hours, always keeping you thoroughly engaged.
I really loved Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It was just such a perfect telling of a simple story, and completely succeeds. It is a beautiful experience and an incredibly moving one, and absolute must watch.