Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The triplicate resolution stirred mixed reactions from me. The first, where Marianne looks back at the ghostly Héloïse, felt like an obligatory pay-off to the slightly "extra" literary reference I felt uncertain with for the entire film. Nothing overtly signifies a high art film like a layer of classic literature I guess, hanging there ripe for undergraduate film studies essays. I also didn't appreciate the constructed nature of that scene, because it's an attribute that can be lobbed at the film as a whole (to its detriment). The cinematography is often of the variety that brings attention to its own beautiful cleverness, and the plot is very structured into neat segments with layers of meaning plainly on display, all of which grind against the inherently messy themes of freedom and first love I wanted the film to embrace more. And I was able to do this a bit in the second sequence of the resolution, when Marianne sees the coded message in the portrait of Héloïse. This moment, though equally as manufactured as the previous scene, hit me far more emotionally, maybe because it was released from the shackles of mythology. Instead, the subtext here was pointedly political, and a better match for the passion on display. The final scene at the concert left me mostly unmoved, but this is likely no fault of the film. I had to watch this in two parts because I got sleepy 80 minutes in and finished it the next morning. So the piece of music Marianne plays in the first half was a bit too far back in my memory for me to viscerally connect to the performance (although intellectually I knew what the film was trying to do). I also recently saw a long take of a woman breaking down on film recently in CLEMANCY, and couldn't fully appreciate Adèle Haenel's take. I completely expect all of this to play better on future viewings.

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