Portrait of a Lady on Fire Review
Dan Skip Allen
Foreign films can evoke feelings and emotions that American film tends not to evoke. They show a passion for life and a despair that we rarely see. Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a French film, deals with passion and sensuality like no film before it. This film lives up to its title because it’s on fire with love and beauty.
Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is dropped off at an island off of the coast of France. She has been tasked with painting a portrait of a young woman for her impending wedding, Héloise (Adèle Haenel), who has an aloof way about her. Sophie (Luana Bajrami) is a servant in the home who has a friendly way about her. Both Marianne and Héloise befriend her and they enjoy their company together. The trio only has each on the island.
This film has a lot to say about looking at one’s inner self and seeing the worth of each person. The characters have to look within themselves to see what is most valuable about beauty and whether it’s just skin deep or if there is a genuine love that exists in it. By painting the portrait, does Marianne see beneath Héloise or is it just a job? Héloise has to decide if she can be satisfied with the finished product or always be disappointed in her visage staring back at her. Portrait of a Lady on Fire deals with beauty and it’s value and cost.
Celine Sciamma delves into something with which the world is obsessed. What are the reward and the penalty of beauty? She creates a beautiful story in a gorgeous setting not soon forgotten. The cinematography of the locations is breathtaking. The camera also deals with looking within. The placement and framing show that perfectly. There are so many beautiful shots in the film.
There are rarely films that come out that have a beauty and glamour to them like this, without shoving it in your face. Portrait of a Lady on Fire doesn’t resort to anything like that. The performances could have been cliche and boring, but they are not. They use every moment with facial movement and glances to tell a love story. The love exudes off of the screen in a captivating and entertaining way. Set in the 18th century, this film seems so modern in so many ways. Love has never seen this level of perfection.
4 1/2 stars
Dan Skip Allen