"moves slow but in its drawling pace, unbridled passion burns brightly"
Celine Sciamma is an impeccable filmmaker. She is a singular director who tackles femininity in different and unique forms. Unruly teenagers, child performance, and more, enriching films that bring us such brilliant cinema. Now she returns with the exquisite Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a movie with such a huge following already.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire revolves around a young painter Marianne who is commissioned by a countess to paint her daughter Heloise in order to send it to a Milanese noblemen in which the young women is betrothed to. However, Heloise has refused to pose for paintings before so Marianne must paint in secret and strike up companionship instead, walking with Heloise to capture her likeness. On an isolated island, Heloise and Marianne become incredibly close and soon start an illicit affair.
Celine Sciamma directs this film with a sharp, enriching, and quiet beauty. Portrait of a Lady on Fire moves slow but in its drawling pace, unbridled passion burns brightly. Sciamma portrays love through the tapestry of paintings. Quiet reflections that reveal perspectives between artist and subject – the observed and the observing. Through the development of the painting, heated debates upon literature, or walks upon the beach, the two women become closer but it is a studied exploration of one another – through mind, spirit and ultimately body. It is within this type of aching story-telling that truly sinks into the skin.
Transporting the viewer to the late 18th century, Sciamma and her team have given a luscious period drama that feels like gentle time-travel. Cinematographer Claire Mathon brings a gorgeous experience to the film where every frame feels as though we have stepped into an oil painting. It is a beautiful experience to watch, with images and sceneries that feel paired with gorgeous details.
Adele Haenel and Noemie Merlant are a beautiful pair to watch. Both strong-willed yet passionate and stirring. There is a great feminine gaze here – a wonderful tactile movie that is expressed with kindness, fierceness, and love between the pair. As they slowly fall into each others arms, their initial stubbornness and combative natures are softened gloriously. Yet the time is between them, their days limited, and you wish beyond the era that they could stay together upon the isolated island, strolling along the beach.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is slow and quiet which may feel challenging at times but the reward is the cost. The final scene will be embedded in your mind for eternity, wishing that you had experienced just half the love that Marianne and Heloise had. Equally calm and ferocious, this passionate movie will seep into your heart and soul.