Thomas’s review published on Letterboxd:
On my first rewatch, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” remains an enthralling cinematic experience. It sucks you right into its world and overwhelms you with its beauty and sense of intimacy. The setting is magical, and cinematography, lighting, and production design are stunning. The movie is a true feast for the eyes.
Heart and soul of the film is the relationship between Marianne and Héloïse. The patient, believable, and well-constructed development of the protagonists and their relationship as well as the subtlety, authenticity, and emotional depth of both writing and acting are extraordinary. Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are both incredible. Their nuanced, natural, and emotionally powerful performances as well as their electrifying chemistry are touching and a joy to watch. I especially love the scene where they explain each other’s microexpressions, since it shows how intimately they have observed each other. Seeing the true self of another person is a major theme of the movie. In “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, moods, emotions, and characters are more important than the plot. It has a mesmerizing atmosphere and the heart-wrenching doomed romance hits you right in the feels. The final scene is unforgettable and couldn´t be more poignant. Furthermore, the film shows a decidedly female perspective on the world (it would fail a male version of the Bechdel test) and feels like a deeply personal passion project.
Still, I would have liked it, if the plot had one or two interesting twists. It´s a pretty straightforward story without any surprises and already early on, you can guess most of the story beats. I mean, it´s a quintessential “doomed forbidden romance that can only live on in our memories” story and feels very familiar. Nevertheless, I increased my rating from 3.5 to 4 stars, because acting, direction, and overall craftmanship are near perfect and the emotional impact can´t be denied.
All in all, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a moving and artistically stunning modern classic. I enjoyed revisiting it and will probably do it again in the future.