Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★½

A meticulously beautiful and restrained period piece that centers on that great theme of meticulously beautiful and restrained period pieces: repressed thirstiness. Snark aside, this movie crept up on me in plain sight and left me emotionally blindsided. After the credits rolled I walked out into the street and wandered for an hour or so feeling all sorts of fucked up. It's good.

Portrait moves slowly and methodically, mostly sans music (like the lives it portrays), the cinematography mirroring the aesthetic of post-Renaissance European academic art, breaking out of that world only during the brief moments in which its characters manage to escape it as well. It's a beautiful but oppressive world, every action dictated by pre-established sets of rules that can't be broken. Within this framework, every small deviation lands with outsize emotional force. These incidents accumulate as the film progresses, to devastating effect.

The film's focus on the import of minute physical gestures made me extremely aware of how intimately entwined my own movie watching experience is with touching my face - a constant ballet of beard stroking, temple massaging, mouth covering. I should probably wait until this coronavirus pandemic is out of the way before I set foot in a movie theater again.

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