Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Film Review

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is yet another film that received hype on the film festival circuit last year, and it was even recently nominated for a foreign language Golden Globe. So naturally, my expectations were high and I’m pleased to confirm it didn’t disappoint.

The film is set in France in 1770. It follows Marianne (Noemie Merlant), a painter who has been sent to a remote island to paint the portrait of Heloise (Adele Haenel), who is due to get married to a man in Milan despite her wishes. Heloise refuses to sit for the portrait so Marianne must become friends with her and paint her from memory – but they eventually become something more.

Celine Sciamma‘s period drama is a beautiful film about forbidden love. It is a slow burner – and a touch too long – but I was captivated watching Heloise and Marianne become closer and closer. Sciamma handles the sex scenes with care and they are tastefully done so you don’t see too much. There is nudity but she never objectifies the women and it never feels gratuitous, especially if you compare it to a film like Blue is the Warmest Colour (which was directed by a man).

The location – from its big old house to its cliffs and beach – is gorgeous and there are some incredible pieces of cinematography throughout. I also loved the costumes, particularly the emerald green dress.

The performances are superb too and feel so natural and subtle. Marianne is the eyes of the audience so you follow her journey and care about her most. Heloise starts off stubborn, angry and aloof but this wall eventually comes down, and Haenel navigates this transformation so well. They have excellent chemistry and you will want them to get together.

It is very good but it’s slow and long so also requires a lot of patience – but stick with it, because the conclusion is very satisfying. I had the greatest of expectations for Portrait of a Lady on Fire thanks to the Twitter hype and it didn’t disappoint but it also didn’t blow me away.

In selected cinemas from Friday 28th February 

Rating: 4/5

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