French period drama lights viewers’ hearts on fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu), written and directed by Céline Sciamma, has been named by IndieWire as one of the best movies of 2019, and also one of the best movies of the decade. The film has an astounding 98% on RottenTomatoes, which it certainly deserves.

The film takes place in France 1760, and follows Marianne who is commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse without her knowledge. From the very beginning, there is a thick cloud of tension as Marianne struggles to complete her task while also feeling guilty as she accompanies Héloïse on her walks. 

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is about a blazing and tragic romance between these two women. Many of the shots are focused on the body as Marianne struggles to paint the perfect portrait and studies Héloïse carefully.

There are a lot of lingering shots and most of the film is fairly silent aside from dialogue, yet this just adds all the more to the tension presented in the story. Portrait of a Lady on Fire often chooses to show instead of telling, allowing the viewer to interpret the meaning themselves. In times of suspense, the audience is often unable to fully see what’s happening which leaves them on the edge of their seats.

The tension builds and builds until, finally, music erupts in the theater. I caught myself wanting to close my eyes during this scene just to listen to the powerful sound and hear every individual voice. Music plays an important role in the film as it is seldom heard and when it is used, it’s intentional. 

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a story of love, loss, and powerful, beautiful women. It captures the feeling of falling in love for the first time in a beautiful and raw way. Each shot and scene of the film is gorgeous, along with the story behind it. I found myself laughing, loving, and crying with Marianne and Héloïse throughout their journey together.

The film was released on a limited run in December 2019 and is currently in a state of limited release in the US. It should be getting a wide release sometime in March, so make sure to take some time to experience everything that Portrait of a Lady on Fire has to offer.

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