In 18th century, France a young painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) without her knowing. Therefore, Marianne must observe her model by day to paint her portrait at night. Day by day, the two women become closer as they share Héloïse’s last moments of freedom before the impending wedding.
I had been hearing a lot about Portrait of a Lady on Fire leading up to its release. All I knew was that it was a French movie that everybody who saw it loved, and many had been declaring it as one of the best films of the year. Having finally seen it, although I’m not quite at the level of those people, I can confirm that it is great.
First and foremost, it is worth noting that Portrait on a Lady on Fire is quite slow, particularly at the beginning section of the moevie. However, it builds up over time, and only gets better as it moves along, as it builds up towards the end. It’s a very subtle and quiet movie on the whole, just focussing in on our lead two characters and their interactions together. It’s such a genuine and intimate movie, and it’s not melodramatic or pretentious. It’s actually quite hard to explain how the movie works, it’s just something you’ll have to see for yourself. I will say that the slow pacing might’ve detracted from my enjoyment and experience of the movie, at least I’m guessing that’s the reason I don’t nearly love it as much as a lot of other people. I do get the feeling however that it’ll hit harder and work better for me next time I watch it. Even if I wasn’t that emotionally invested or connected to the characters and story, on the whole its plotted out quite well, and I think it was ended quite well, even though I think ending it a scene or two earlier would’ve also worked. I liked many of the ideas that they presented, and I’m looking forward to revisiting this movie.
The two lead performances are some of the best acting of the year, in both Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel. They felt so natural in their roles, and their chemistry was completely believable. Though much of their interactions that bring them closer together are subtle (and these interactions do drive the movie), these two actresses really conveyed the characters and their emotions excellently.
This movie is pretty much perfectly directed by Céline Sciamma, and it’s one of the main reasons why this movie worked so well. It’s a gorgeous looking film, with the cinematography from Claire Mathon making this movie one of the best shot movies of the year. Much of the subtlety that I mentioned earlier, is provided by the direction, and that really worked for the movie. The use of music was great as well, I don’t remember it being used often, but when it was present, it was used excellently. On a technical level it was pretty much perfect, very likely one of the best directed films of the year.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a very well made and visually stunning movie, beautifully directed and excellently acted. Definitely one not to miss from this year. Despite this, I will admit that I do feel like I’m missing something from it compared to the other reactions coming out of this movie, and it’s definitely something I want to revisit sometime in the future. Nonetheless, I’d say to catch Portrait of a Lady on Fire as soon as you can, there’s at least a lot to appreciate in it, even if you don’t completely fall in love with it.