“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a French period-piece romance directed by Celine Sciamma. The film follows Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a painter tasked with painting a rich woman, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), who is to be given away in marriage. However, Héloïse has no desire to marry the man she is set up to and refuses to pose for Marianne. Marianne then must pose as hired company to take walks with Héloïse in order to take quick looks at her and paint her from memory. The story is already engaging enough outside of the fact that what it develops into is the most pure and realistic love story I have ever seen on film. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a masterpiece and, cutting right to the chase, you need to see it.
The performances are nothing short of perfect. Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel have perfect chemistry and their moments together are perfectly understated. The two have meaningful conversations about their emotions and each actor takes time to deliver the lines as if they’re struggling to tell the other how they’re feeling. With how reserved they are, every smile or laugh carries so much emotion. The act of painting Héloïse brings the two together with so many revealing moments that allow them to show vulnerability. These moments in a less intelligent film would be loud arguments with the characters shouting the others flaws at them. This film chooses quieter, more frequent moments where the characters are hitting each other where they are most vulnerable. This vulnerability allows their relationship to flourish.
The film is also gorgeous. All of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” was shot in 8K, allowing for the high resolution images with incredibly rich detail. The beaches and landscapes are captured in exquisite detail. Each shot is bursting with color and can serve as paintings on their own. The cinematography itself also tells a story of where the two leads are in their relationship. Early in the film, Sciamma uses a lot of wide shots to accentuate the distance between them, and as the film progresses, the camera moves closer to the characters, showing how they’ve grown. Every visual component of the film is working towards telling the grander story.
I’ll say it again: “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a masterpiece. It is one of the most perfect movies I have ever seen with realistic characters and a devastating romance that isn’t necessarily allowed, especially during this time period. The performances are incredible, the script is raw, the cinematography is rich and the ending is the most emotional conclusion I have seen in a while. You need to see this film.