Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★½

Now, what you have to understand about Portrait of a Lady on Fire is that I’ve been following this movie since March of 2019, way before the lineup for Cannes got announced. So, needless to say, I’ve hyped this movie up for myself a lot. And, it’s been a wild ride watching this movie win two awards at Cannes, become critically acclaimed at TIFF, and get it’s wide release date bumped to Valentine’s Day 2020 because apparently we can’t have nice things anymore.

So, the question on everyone’s mind is, “did Portrait live up to Lizard King’s hype?” And the answer to that question is a resounding “hell yes.”

The worst possible thing that could happen to this movie’s legacy is for it to be branded as a romance film. Because, let me be the first of many to tell you, it is so much more than that. This is a story of love had and love lost. It‘s a story that subtly explores the role of women in the 18th century, as well as the expectations placed upon them. And, as a huge advocate of show-don’t-tell cinema, I’m glad to say that this film shows all of this with as little dialogue as possible. 

Every line in this movie is purposeful. There are so many scenes where instead of characters saying how they feel, the camera simply shows how they feel. This method of storytelling succeeds because of the compelling performances of Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel. They give their performances their all, and it truly pays off. Their chemistry is nearly palpable because they were unafraid to explore the sensuality and intimacy that comes with their roles. This is another example of what can happen when sexual scenes in films are handled by a director who has the actor’s and actress’s best interest in mind.

And speaking of directing, Celine Sciamma has proved to me that she can direct and write like very few other people working today. Her vision for this film is undeniably genius. Everything from the set to the costumes feels so strategically tailored to the film’s style. And with the help of some absolutely astounding cinematography by Claire Mathon, you’ll find yourself so sucked into the film that the two hours will simply fly by. 

My critiques are extremely minimal and are not worth mentioning. My expectations have been thoroughly met if not exceeded. This was my most anticipated film of 2019, and goddamn did it deliver. And in a year full of batshit crazy endings, this film’s is easily one of the most poetic and incredible.

Leave a comment if 2019 might be the best year for movies ever.

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