Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★

Art imitates life. The Oscar Wilde quote lends itself perfectly to this masterclass in filmmaking. Led by the incredible direction of Céline Sciamma and the tour-de-force performances by both lead actors Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant, this slow burn drama perfectly captures the way that art affects the way we look at the world. Every intimate detail is captured within the cinematography; particularly within the use of
two-shot framing, close ups, POV shots, and camera cuts that add to the tension that both characters continually emit. The film chooses to show rather than tell the ways in which love and emotion are worn on our expressions, and the camera plays the role of the paintbrush, giving life to an otherwise empty canvas.

As the film begins to pick up about 45-minutes in, a confrontation about the meaning behind the portrait incites the conflict in the film:

"I didn't know you were an art critic."
"I didn't know you were a painter."

Challenge incites conflict. This remarkable piece of dialogue perfectly encapsulates the idea that one cannot hope to achieve success and happiness unless the walls of restrictions and convention are torn down. Only then is Marianne able to become the artist she was destined to be, and the person she hides beneath the blank stare. Without this confrontation, the love that is hidden underneath their facial expressions would remain dormant.

The standout sequence within the film comes during the scene in which the film gets its name. Using beautiful diegetic singing and remarkable camerawork, the scene builds gradually just as the emotion does between both characters. Desire turns to love, as the embers eventually latch on to Héloïse, forcing them both to confront the gravitas of their attractions.

Underneath it all is the haunting inevitability of their future with one another shown through the ghost like figure of Héloïse in a wedding dress stalking Marianne in the night. The realities of the time-period and the patriarchal society eventually close in on this remote island, and just as they had discussed under candlelight the lover cannot become the poet without sacrifice.

Add this to the list of films from 2019 that give me hope that about the future of this industry. Stories like this have never had a better opportunity in history to be brought to international audiences. And with the groundbreaking achievement accomplished by Parasite at this years Oscars, there is hope that remarkable foreign films such as this will go on to achieve incredible success at a global level.