Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★

Céline Sciamma’s romantic drama in which a female painter is appreciative to paint a wedding visual rendering of a young woman. Starring Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel. In French with English subtitles.

Céline Sciamma’s previous film was the critically-acclaimed drama Girlhood, which was selected to be shown as part of the Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival.

Now, her latest film, which got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, is one that she can be delighted of.

The film is set in France in 1770, where Marianne (Noémie Merlant), an artist, is specially made to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), a young woman who has recently left the nunnery. Héloïse is an unenthusiastic bride to be and Marianne is forced to paint her deprived of her knowing. She witnesses her by day, to paint her clandestinely.

Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel both give very good performances in their respective roles as Marianne and Héloïse. Marianne is the painter who has to paint Héloïse but has to be careful with herself, while Héloïse is the woman who is to be married to a nobleman, but she likes Marianne. They both suit their roles very well and each make the most of their screen time.

Elsewhere, there are respectable performances to be had from Luàna Bajrami and Valeria Golino in their respective roles as Sophie and The Countess, with Sophie being a maid.

The direction from Sciamma is very good because she allows the facial expressions to be seen to a strong effect throughout, while also keeping a pleasant atmosphere happening as well and the script is written to a decent standard by the director as she makes the movie good to follow.

The camera and costume stand out best in terms of the technical aspects, because the camera makes very good use of the locations and also captures the tense moments well, which get the edge-of-the-seat status; the costumes are excellently designed.

The only criticism I have would be the pace, as this can be a little slow at times.

Overall, despite the sometimes-slow pace, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is another very decent drama from Céline Sciamma, due to her direction and script, along with the excellent performances from Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, the mostly pleasant atmosphere, cinematography and costume.

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