Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Metacritic Metascore: 95
IMDB: 8.2


Release Date: 14 February 2020
Distributor: Neon - Criterion Collection
Budget: $3-5M
Worldwide Gross: $23M
Total Film Awards: 43

2019 Ranked

Heloise: In solitude, I felt the liberty you spoke of. But I also felt your absence.Wow. Just wow.

SYNOPSIS: On an isolated island in Brittany at the end of the eighteenth century, a female painter is obliged to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman.

Do you ever find yourself in a hypnotic state? Just staring at something beautiful and watching it change every second while experiencing how it makes you feel? Anger, tension, sadness, happiness. That's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of describing Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

TRIVIA: The paintings by Marianne were all created by painter Hélène Delmaire, whom Noémie Merlant worked closely with to inform her character's perspectives and sight lines when painting.

This beautiful work of art, directed by Céline Sciamma, is a period love drama that takes place in 18th century France, when Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a beautiful young painter, is hired to paint the portrait of Eloise (Adèle Haenel) for her upcoming wedding. However, Eloise is not interested in getting married and therefore refuses to cooperate with the wedding preparations, especially her portrait painting in particular. Marianne decides to hide the fact that she is a painter and presents herself as a companion designed to stir Eloise's time. At the same time, she watches her day after day and paints her secretly.

TRIVIA: According to Céline Sciamma, the reason why the film features no musical score is to be obsessed with rhythm, to make the music arise elsewhere, in the movements of the bodies and the camera. Especially since the film is mostly made up of sequence shots and therefore with a precise choreography.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is visual poetry at its finest and an immersive experience that should be experienced in either a theater or at home in front of a massive screen with surround sound. Every theme in the movie about love and self-discovery of the characters is serious and powerful, with the dialogue and body language both painting a beautiful portrait of a growing bond between two strangers in an honest, poetic form.

TRIVIA: Céline Sciamma and Adèle Haenel are ex-lovers. They split amicably prior to filming.

The story is one we can universally relate to because we have all had beautiful experiences in life that we knew to have a time limit. This is a film about not regretting the things we do in life because of the pain/sadness they may bring us, but to instead look back on them fondly and be happy that those memories can be cherished forever. The relationship that develops between the two characters is so painfully real it's terrifying. The chemistry between Noemie and Adele is beyond words. You feel their love, pain, and heartbreak, and those feelings stay with you long after the credits roll. What I especially loved though is that the film never explains it's characters to you, and instead presents them and leaves them for you the viewer to interpret: how they feel and what they are thinking. The dialogue was so crisp and well-written, truly capturing the growing bond and subsequent passion between the two leads.

TRIVIA: The film was shot in 8k. Céline Sciamma wanted to capture a large dynamic range of colors and for the film to feel contemporary, whereas 35mm felt too timeless.

While not entirely its own, the film is nonetheless brilliant in nearly every other regard. The production design and especially the cinematography, including the framing, color palette, and the dream-like landscape, are stunning. There is a visual language of unspoken glances and facial beauty through close-ups and lighting that parallels the script and brings out the mystique of the mysterious Héloïse.

This film, like a majestic portrait, will remain echoing in your subconscious like that song you love that constantly finds itself running laps in your mind. This is a magnificent love story about how formative romances can shape us as human beings and help us move forward. One of the most immersive film experiences in recent memory.

As a lover of film, this movie embodies what going to the cinema is all about and why I love going to the movies, plain and simple. You step into the unknown not knowing how the next 90-150 minutes could shape your emotions. Go see this movie.

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Fact-Checking / TRIVIA Source: IMDb

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Directing - 5/5
Screenplay - 5/5
Editing - 5/5
Pacing - 4.5/5
Costume Design - 5/5
Cinematography - 5/5
Acting - 5/5
Sound - 5/5
Enjoyment rating - 10/10

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