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

Review by Manu Davila. View at the AFI Fest 2019

Brilliant and beautiful piece Portrait of a Lady on Fire is one of those films that changes you after you watched them. It is one of those films that makes you feel too much. Definitely, one of my favorites of the year. An excellent direction, with such an ingenious script and dialogue, a cinematography that won’t let you take yours eyes off the screen, and a sound that makes you get into the trance of the main character’s thoughts, make Portrait of a Lady on Fire a must watch film. 

 Sciamma’s powerful piece is 10 awards winner, some such as the Queer Palm in Cannes, as well as Best Screenplay. It was also nominated for the Palme d’Or. Best Screen play in Chicago International Fest, among others. After you watch it, you will understand why all these awards. The story takes place on a remote island in France, in the 18th century. A young painter, Marianne (Noemie Merlant) is instructed to do a wedding portrait of a young woman, Heloise (Adele Haenel). 

The film starts with the young artist Marianne, and right away, the director shows us she is not just a painter, but independent and strong woman. Marianne gets at the island where she will meet the young woman who is going to get married, however the circumstances for the painter to do her work are unusual. She has to do the portrait of Heloise with her memories, and this condition it makes the narrative attractive to the audience; because Marianne has to find a way to spend time with Heloise, and observe her body composition. Here we learn that Marianne does not want to be painted, because she refuses her marriage, and it’s not sadness what she conveys, rather anger of losing freedom. 

I found very engaging the close up shots of the canvas and the loud sounds of it, when Marianne sits in front of the canvas to paint. It almost makes you feel that you are a painter, and that it is your hand that with a brush smoothly touches the canvas. Portrait of a Lady on Fire, is a beautiful but forbidden love story, where director Sciamma shows you step by step, what is to fall in love. It has a delicate rhythm, but powerful build up to a relationship full of passion, but impossible, where these two ladies know their love story will end, so better love as much as you may not love again. As Marianne said to Heloise, “Don’t regret, remember.”

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