Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Director: Celine Sciamma
Starring: Noemie Merlant, Adele Haenel
Studio: Neon/Studio Canel
IMDB Rating: 8
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a love story in the purest sense. Set in 1790 Brittany, the film is the story of a Parisian painter commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of a reluctant young woman. French writer/director Celine Sciamma builds upon this simple premise to create a masterpiece of simple looks, furtive gazes & small, almost imperceptible gestures that illustrate love as an intimate knowing of another person. Because its focus is the creation of the portrait Sciamma crafts each frame of the film as a painting, using light, texture & perspective to bring alive every quiet moment & simple interaction. This film is about patience & fulfillment as it builds the relationship slowly, capturing it in the first tentative strokes of the painter, then a little bit bolder & finally in a canvas full of depth & richness. The performances by Neomie Merlant & Adele Haenel are exquisite, drawing the viewers eyes into theirs in a series of closeups. As the portrait take shape the characters invest in one another more richly than any 10 other romantic movies. In fact, the final, long medium shot of Haenel’s Heloise is both painful & exhilarating as if captures the arc of the 2 women’s relationship.
Trapped in a patriarchal time, the movie creates a feminine oasis, holding back the pressures of that patriarchy, but never allowing it to slide too far focus. One critic observed, rightly, that the film captures a brief point in life that is the kind that you remember forever & hold onto until your dying breath. Such is Portrait of a Lady on Fire; a film that should be seen & will stay with you long after.