Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) has finally consented to sit for her portrait. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) directs her pose, “Turn toward me—a little more—turn your head slightly—rest your arm here.” Taking hold of her arm she adjusts its position. She places the right hand upon the left. She asks, “Are you comfortable?—can you hold that pose?” Héloïse answers, “Oui.”

Héloïse is sitting upon an improvised pedestal. She is wearing a dark green gown and her hair is tied up exposing her ears and the back of her neck. Behind her is an expanse of paneled wall with two large mullioned windows to either side. The stream of light, falling upon her face, outlines her brow, the shape of her cheek, the delicate folds of her ears, the slope of her neck, and gathers in the cleft formed where the indentation of her clavicles meet the tendons of her throat. Flowing over her gown, the light reflects from every crease and fold presenting a multitude of shades of green. Her eyes gaze directly from under dark brows that accentuate her slightly sullen expression.

Marianne raises her eyebrows and complains, “I can’t make you smile.” Noticing a cloud pass over Héloïse’s face, she says, “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Héloïse puts her hand to her mouth and shakes her head, “You haven’t hurt me.” “I have, I can tell, when you’re moved you do this with your hand and when you’re embarrassed you bite your lip and when you’re annoyed you don’t blink.” Héloïse takes a breath, tips her head back slightly, and says, “You know it all.” Marianne smiles, “Forgive me, I’d hate to be in your place.” “We’re in the same place, exactly the same place,” Héloïse counters. She has Marianne come stand beside her and look back to where she had been, “If you look at me, who do I look at?” Héloïse continues, “When you don’t know what to say you touch your forehead and when you lose control you raise your eyebrows and when you’re troubled you breathe through your mouth.” Marianne turns toward Héloïse. They look deeply into each other’s eyes. It’s only now, Marianne truly sees Héloïse, as if for the first time.

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