Portrait of a Lady on Fire follows Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a painter, who is tasked with painting a portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), a soon-to-be bride, but must do so in secret. Unexpectedly though, both women find themselves falling for each other.
This film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, the film is shot in 8K so all the colors just pop, not only in the various nature scenes, but also in small things like the actress’s eye color. Of course, the cliff side and the ocean aren’t bad to look at either as the film takes place on an island during the 1700s in France. The remote location helped make the tone of the film feel more intimate, like these two women are inside of their own little bubble. But it also made the characters feel isolated, and they knew that their time together must eventually come to an end.
The chemistry between Merlant and Haenel is absolutely electric, not just in their dialogue, but in their body language. Marianne must constantly look at Héloïse for her painting, but doesn’t simply observe her facial features, she notices how her hands move and how the light reflects off her skin. Their romance feels so real because it is full of intimate moments that mostly consist of drawing, reading, and walking along the coastline and are oftentimes done in silence. That doesn’t take away from their chemistry though because you can tell that even if they aren’t speaking, they are simply enjoying each other’s company.
I thought that this film would only revolve around these two characters, but I really enjoyed the character Sophie (Luàna Bajrami), the housemaid, who is a great supporting character. In the film, she becomes pregnant and does not want to have the baby. She reaches out to the girls for help, and through their experience they are able to bond as women and become good friends.
Céline Sciamma is the director of this film and she has done a magnificent job. This is my favorite romance film that I’ve seen recently and is one of the best romance films of the decade. It can be a slow burn, but I always found the film to be engaging. Sciamma has talked many times about how this film is shot through the female gaze and Portrait is undoubtedly a woman’s film.
Overall, Portrait is an absolutely gorgeous film. Not only is it breathtaking to look at, but it’s captivating in its direction, romance, and characters. Sciamma captures intimacy in a way I have never seen before and in doing so elevates the genre.
I give Portrait of a Lady on Fire an A+