Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

It’s incredible how a film can earn a very special place in your life with just half a dozen frames.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen; not only because of the marvelous cinematography of Claire Mathon, but also because of the heart and soul each actress gave to those images.

This is a very minimalist production, with a small cast and few sets. Notwithstanding, the beauty of this picture jumps out of the screen because a tremendous amount of effort went into every shot.

The costumes have a life of their own, telling a story of moments and carrying different symbolism, from barrier to freedom.

And, I still don’t know how this crew lit the night-time scenes. The story takes place in the eighteenth century, yet those shots never looked artificial, having just the right amount of light to convey loneliness.

This feeling is also transmitted through the sound and music. They never intrude, while always introspectively present.

The visuals have apparently the innocence of nature. The soundtrack is low-key. The screenplay is prudent with its words. And the acting has carte blanche to do nothing.

A character just glancing into the horizon and reflecting, when, suddenly, you notice that these are gradually becoming quiet little scenes of inaction before an eminent explosion. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a volcano, and you feel it. You want it.

The visuals begin to show the fury of the elements that were always there, the soundtrack crescendos to big musical moments, words start serving interaction instead of decorum, and the actresses run the gamut of human emotion.

Céline Sciamma, the writer and director, is masterful at how she induces the viewer into caring about the characters’ destinies, and thus wanting the plot to move, while adding those moments of breathing room. The character introspection helps in creating development, connection and desire.

The film keeps getting sharper cuts, contributing to the ticking clock sensation, without losing any human depth or detail.

When it ends, you just want the best for these two women. And that’s an accomplishment in just 2 hours of story. Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are now Marianne and Héloïse, and you see their world completely from their perspective.

It’s very rare that a film is able to strip you off of your point-of-view and to promote such a naturalistic connection with other lives and passions.

This is a special experience I’ll never forget.

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