Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★½

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is silent, a film reliant on exquisite action and concealed emotion. Céline Sciamma has made her triumphant entry in a year brimming with overwhelmingly beautiful works before it, a tour de force to behold. It is the perfect romance I have seen from 2019, it might as well be the year’s best, you could argue. The structure of this film is not driven by needing one because it seems to me that the free-flowing nature of it blends with the subject it covers all right. It journeys into every corner of everything it wants to set out to. This is why I watch films, this is why the medium is extremely powerful.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is what I like to call a ‘painting’ movie. Images are lacking of that sharpness or the crisp of a standard look. The film looks like a painting, a Barry Lyndon of sorts. It is gentle and calm. Frames are caused by impassioned expressionistic filmmaking choices, like a series of fantasies that only exist in the world of Sciamma. Sometimes, when I see an excerpt from the film, it’s as though the thing is too good to be true. The cinematography pays tribute to French classics, or maybe I’m being reminded of them. Most of time stagnant, but the conjured feeling it brings out persistently lingers.

We love the spiciness contained in the dialogue. We want the steamy sex scene. Portrait of a Lady on Fire has none of that. Dialogue is in context of the period it is based on, if not, two people talking with each other. Sex scene is not an actual sex scene, just an alternative. The romance in this film is ripe. The maturity of love portrayed is the most mature I’ve seen. No senseless walk outs or screaming. Our leads remain serene on the outside, on the surface. Pain is deep-seated. The joy of finally realizing both of them are officially in love is as intimately felt as the crushing defeat that is the end, an ending that mirrored Call Me By Your Name. If I had to choose which is better, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is my choice. “She didn’t see me” is a line I will never forget.

The film is about human connection and how that connection can inspire or manifest from the simplest ideas to its complexities through genuine art, a canvas carrying a spectrum. Silent but speaks volumes and arousing in its thought-provoking concepts, not physically. You have to see it to believe it. You have to feel it to understand it.

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