Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is alright. It seems to be missing something, but exactly what that is hard to pin down. If one was to try to put a word on it, it's intimacy. It's not to say that we don't see these character's intimate moments, a somewhat important of a romance. Rather, these characters are kept at a distance, both from each other and from the audience. It makes for an interesting approach; particularly for Héloïse, we can never get inside her head, making her somewhat of an enigma for both Marianne and the audience. However, this means the emotional catharsis attempted at points simply didn't connect, at least for this viewer. I have no doubt others will find something really lovely here, and at one point in particular, I felt it too; however, for the majority of the runtime, the central focus of the film simply didn't work for this viewer.

However, one can still appreciate the craft here even if it feels emotionally hollow. The costumes and cinematography are exquisite, and the script has one of those rare literary allusions that really works for the subject matter. All four main actresses work well with what their given, although the true standout felt like Bajrami, who does quite a bit with significantly less screentime than the leads do. On a scene-by-scene basis, the film has sequences that really work but also many that simply feel dull. In the few moments the film goes fantastic, it works surprisingly well and one wishes there were more of these moments when it truly came alive.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire didn't quite do it for me, but it's easy to understand where it gets its fans. Indeed, this might work better for those with more life experience than I have, but I can only really assess a movie from my own point of view. On that matter, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a well-crafted yet somewhat hollow film that nevertheless has moments of pure emotion that make the whole piece worth checking out regardless. Ultimately, recommended with caveats.


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