Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

There's a moment in the film where a character walks into a room and is startled that a man is there. She promptly turns and leaves the room. The man is no one of consequence and yet his presence elicits a million terrible feelings.

You, the audience member, are also startled, because you've been living blissfully in this narrative on borrowed time and this revelation comes at you as fast and horribly as it does for our protagonist. You feel her rage and fear and resignation all at once and you know you'll both probably never recover. Suddenly all that talk about Orpheus makes sense and you just want one more glimpse. You realize this movie is perfect.

The way Sciamma accomplishes this feat is fascinating. It's so simple and so smart. We are tasked with secretly observing Marianne as she is tasked with secretly observing Héloïse. We are drawn in so intimately, so quickly, painting our own picture of these women. We see their relationship bloom slowly, even abstractly at times. But once the image makes sense it is so complex and engrossing that we don't want to look away. Which of course we must, because movies end. Our subjects also know their time together will end, that they are only allowed so much control over their destinies. They cling to these memories just as we will. The movie is ultimately both a flawless romance and a passionate testamonial about the power and privelege of art, how it is a force of resistance, preservation, and enlightenment.

Which somehow we forget.

It takes a great piece of art to remind us. And Portrait of a Lady on Fire does just that.

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