Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

I have hesitated to write anything on this film after my first few viewings. I feel woefully inadequate in even beginning to explore this film; and even more in trying to relate to it. It's one of those movies that feels bigger than the screen; like the whole universe is somehow glimpsed in this love affair. This is hyperbole, clearly, this really is a straightforward story of two lovers discovering themselves and each another in a fiery romance. But I have found that there are certain movies that in spite of their small canvas, so to speak, they are able to capture such a depth of feeling and experience that it becomes gloriously overwhelming. We're trained here to observe the smallest details. The curvature of an ear, the manner with which light and shadow play off facial features. The bold, primary colored dresses and how they interact with the softness of the natural world. The striking contrast between the crisp vibrancy of reality and the painterly swooshes of the canvas is stunning; the film manages to look at the world the way you imagine a painter would. Your eyes obsessively dart to the way a nose connects to a face, or the way a strand of hair blows in the wind; as though every frame aspires to capture the overwhelming nature of life within the confines of a canvas.

It strikes me that I will likely never forget Adèle Haenel's face. I don't mean this in a lustful, creepy manner. Instead, I mean to say that the film inspires you to study every part of it. There's a remarkable intimacy there; I couldn't tell you what was happening in the background of any shot cause I never got past her face. This carries into the futile ambition to create a portrait that encompasses someone the artist feels to be too grand for a canvas. And this doom pervades through the film overall; in spite of the stunning feminine solidarity we observe, there's an inevitable heartbreak glimpsed from the beginning. A lesbian romance is forbidden, and the artist is quite literally crafting the final nail in their romance's coffin. But there is a lifetime lived in those passionate moments; an immortal connection that we glimpse right to the film's final intoxicating moments. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is poetry. It is capital-A Art. One of the ten best films of this past decade and a movie, even after four viewings, I still feel as though I can barely grasp. Exhilarating and endlessly stirring.


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