Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, 2019): France

Reviewed by Kaio Farkouh. Watched at the 2019 AFI festival.

One of the most truly, genuine and beautiful experiences that I had this year watching a movie. Director Céline Sciamma tells a story about a female artist, that is obligated to paint a portrait of a lady before her wedding.

The movie starts off with a white canvas, a canvas ready to be drawn by an artist, as we are introduced to the painter Marianne, who is played by Noémi Merlant. When she is asked by one of her students, who is the woman in the portrait. Sciamma takes us back to when it all happened. As the first act of the movie slowly introduce us to Héloïse, played by Adele Haenel.

Marianne does not tell her real intentions to Héloïse, as they start spending time together. The painter is supposed to draw her without her knowledge. The only way for her to do her job, it is spending time together and through observations. The screenplay, written by Sciamma, captures the most detailed meaningful moments and feelings. As the two characters embrace a process of self-disclosure.

A self-disclosure that the director does not rush, she takes the time that she needs to build this relationship. Just like the film, “Call Me By Your Name,” the film invites you to follow this poetic story with patience and attention. The lack of dialogues and songs makes us contemplate and resonate with the character’s feelings. And it is here where our characters shine the most. They show emotions and feelings through gestures. And by the second hour of the movie, you are totally in for this love story.

Through the cinematography, the director enriches a relationship with the color red and yellow. It makes a warm and comfortable environment with the two lovers that share intimate moments in a pretty and comfortable house to the most beautiful landscape.

Just like fire, this is a love story that will make your heart and soul warm. Sciamma creates one of the most beautiful and touching story about these two females characters. It is good to see the representation on and off-screen. And how powerful a female story is told when a female director is responsible for it.


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