Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★½

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a masterfully directed film that excels at the simplicity and raw emotion by which it tells its story. Celine Sciamma's direction is deceptively simple; the camera largely remains stationary and holds on a scene for long periods of time, but it is with how characters are framed and things are introduced into the screen that the film shines. Although things largely take place in one locations, each shot has a variety of different visuals (the beautiful beach, a dark room lit only by candlelight, the bright bedroom) so that each scene stands out. But of course, one of the best aspects of the movie is the mesmerizing performances from the two leads, Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel. So much of the film relies on telling its story with just a glance or meaningful look from one character to another and they both nail it.

The initial premise of the film is so effective at drawing me into the story; I immediately wanted to know more about the characters and why there was so much mystery about this young woman. So instead of just passively taking in exposition, I was eager to snatch up every bit of information about the characters that was provided. Wisely, the film never turns the premise into a gimmick and the story naturally progresses from there. There are multiple times where I thought the story could devolve into a bit of melodrama, but it never does thanks to the great writing of these complex characters. I really found myself wrapped up in this story and I really appreciate the thoughtful way in which it unfolds. Another thing that was done well was the use (or lack of) music; its large absence meant that anytime music was used, it is that much more impactful (there is a great scene involving an orchestra where I found myself aware that I was completely transfixed with what was happening and unable to look away). Overall, this is just an incredibly well-made film.


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