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‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ is cinema at its highest art form

‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ is cinema at its highest art form

‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ is cinema at its highest art form
March 30
14:00 2020

“I felt the liberty you spoke of. But I also felt your absence.”

At the end of the eighteenth century, Marianne is commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse without her knowing. As Marianne observes her with each passing day, the two women become closer as not only Héloïse’s wedding day approaches, but also as the eventual end of her short-lived freedom looms.

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a cinematic painting. Each gorgeous shot looks directly out of a painting with director Céline Sciamma as it’s fearless, genius artist. Between Sciamma’s tender, subtle direction and cinematographer Claire Mathon’s utterly beautiful photography, watching “Portrait” is like watching a skilled artist paint their masterpiece in real time.

It’s honestly a bit hard to put into words how stunning of a film this is. From it’s gorgeous look to it’s aching central romance, everything in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” stuns and blindsides like flame against a night sky. Just like our central duo, everything in the film is delicately placed and arranged. Not a single thing seems out of place. Between the gorgeous wide-shots of its French island or its longing, erotic shots of obvious yearning, the female gaze is personified for all to witness, utterly relishing in its wholly feminine nature and viewpoint. While it’s story is about a forbidden love, which obviously plays into its central idea of the feminine gaze, nothing in the film feels outright forbidden because its love story is so naturally told. It all feels just right.

While “Portrait” has an abundance of visual artistry, it’s arguably all about the feelings the film provokes. While of course this will be different for all spectators, there’s no denying the rich and fully complete feelings the film invokes. Whether it be passion, yearning, angst or just love, there is enough here for everyone to feel something, which is exactly what the film aims to do and succeeds in doing. The eye candy by way of its cinematography or location is plentiful, but the emotion present in the film is almost too intense to bear. This is all accomplished by Sciamma’s utter brilliance in the director’s chair and the passionate, fantastic performances from Adèle Haenel (Heloise) and Noémie Merlant (Marianne). If you weren’t jealous of Sciamma’s talent already, she also wrote the film and her screenplay is a beautiful meditation on longing boosted up by eloquent, poetic dialogue. If her direction isn’t enough to make you feel something, her screenplay and dialogue will surely do the trick.

I was utterly taken aback by “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” It’s a film all about passion, love and the need for appropriate companionship in times when it would be forbidden, which only helps to make the film feel more alive, yet restrained due to its subject matter. But yet, I felt everything the characters were feeling thanks in large part due to all of the immense talent in-front of and behind the camera. There are a lot of emotions to be felt throughout ‘Portrait’ and while I assume a number of different people will get different things out of the film, I think it’s a film that needs to be experienced not only for all of its technical achievements, but to witness a film that is so unapologetically intense in its sensuality and such a raw portrait of love.

The film is now available to stream on Hulu.

Final rating: 5/5

Featured image: Courtesy The Mary Sue

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Spencer Kain

Spencer Kain

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