Review: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019 San Diego Film Festival)

Title: Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Director: Celine Sciamma
Starring: Noemie Merlant, Adele Haenel, Luàna Bajrami
Runtime: 2 hours

What It Is: Marianne (Noemie Merlant) is commissioned to paint a portrait of Heloise (Adele Hoenel) for her betrothed. She is advised that Heloise objects to the arranged marriage and therefore will not sit for the painting, leaving Marianne to share her days observing her muse, while painting her at night. It is not until Heloise’s mother leaves that the two truly understand the pull of their interactions.

What We Think: At the beginning of the film we witness Marianne respond to a stunning portrait that one of her students has brought forth. The presence of the painting, the skies that emulate the depth of sky which seemingly pull from the ground to join it, and its focal point centered amongst both as if in a struggle, sums up the richness of the film. Its love-story rips into your memories and tears emotion as you watch the two dance around the fire that sets the two young lovers ablaze.

Set in 18th century France, on a remote estate far from the distractions that await just outside the two characters minds, the audience is privy to every gaze, every brush of skin, every unspoken act of desire that starts with the first moment Heloise turns and her emerald eyes penetrate deep into Marianne’s. Adele Haenel’s gaze should be attributed to much of the force the film has, as her face illustrates a tale of all hope and need of first love.

And this is the basis of the film, true, first love. The kind that embodies our soul and defines our lives. Though it last little less than a few days under the absence of Heloise’s mother, the impact is as powerful to watch as it emulates off the screen.

Our Grade: A+, Not a moment, object, or word is wasted in the film. Every syllable uttered between them only serves to prove how the want between them is an unavoidable storm. Every look the women share is so intimate, so full of the promise, that you find yourself falling love along with them. I will watch this movie again, and again, and again, and like the memories I hold, I will feel that fire every single time.

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Author: nikayaya