Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a film that I really didn’t know if I was going to be able to see in theaters or not. It premiered at Cannes in May of last year, then got released in France in the middle of September, and then it had a wide release this past February. Neon is on a roll with their distributions after the success of Parasite and now the word of mouth about this film is getting around here in the States and I couldn’t be happier as a fan because the product is damn good.
We open in 18th century France with Marianne (Merlant) teaching some young art students, then suddenly she is reminded of a time in her past when she was hired to paint a young woman. That young woman is Heloise (Haenel) who is reluctant to have her portrait drawn because the finished product is to be sent to her future spouse in Milan. Heloise has no say in who she marries, so Marianne is hired as a companion for walks with her. Really, she’s there to paint Heloise in secret, but studying her proves to be very difficult.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire has a pretty slow pace, but some of the shots are so rewarding. I found it to be an extremely fresh kind of perspective and a gorgeous piece of filmmaking that has me interested in what writer/director Céline Sciamma has done in the past. I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen each moment and when it all unfolded, my heart felt cold and warm at the same time. Merlant and Haenel are exquisite throughout and Portrait of a Lady on Fire is definitely worth your time.