Portrait of a Lady on Fire

From sparse beginnings, grows something beautiful….

Written and directed by Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is story of a young painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), being brought to a remote and bleak island in Brittany to surreptitiously paint the daughter, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), of the family under the guise of being a walking partner. The refusal of Héloïse to sit for her portrait, and hence stay any arranged marriage, is the last bit of control that she feels she has.

The blank canvas of Portrait of a Lady on Fire is slowly, but assuredly, covered in the bright colours of emotion and passion as Heloise and Marianne begin their visual courtship, and which then transcends into physical partnership. And finally catches alight with a flame that burns well beyond the end of the film.

The build up is quite slowly paced and I felt it could have done with a bit more emphasis on the relationship to really drive up the emotional tension, but it is a minor quibble in a film that is incredibly polished and emotionally resonant. The almost entirely female cast own the screen and hold the camera so well: Marianne’s intense stares (at camera as she is painting) and glimpses (at Héloïse to study her) are beautifully done, but we also see the reverse as Héloïse becomes more aware of the interest that Marianne is showing in her.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a gorgeous, gorgeous film full of intensity and poise, with some astounding and sublime interactions between the majority female cast. And the ending is both painfully emotional and perfectly measured.






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