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Review: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (18)

Written by Film

Having never seen a foreign language film before, Portrait of a Lady on Fire has definitely shown me the error of my ways and is one of the best movies of the year. Here’s why.

Set in the late 18th century on a remote island of the coast of Brittany, France, Portrait of Lady on Fire follows painter Marianne (Noemie Merlant) who is tasked with painting a wedding portrait of the betrothed Héloïse (Adele Haenel) without her knowledge due to her being reluctant to be married off. By day she spends time with her under the guise of companionship and by night completing the painting. But as they spend more time together and the painting nears completion the two realize their feelings for one another and a relationship begins to blossom.

One of the best films visually I have ever seen, Portrait of a Lady on Fire has remarkable cinematography with several unique and interesting shots and angles. Certain shots and the way the camera lingers on the face of each character make it almost seem like an Alfred Hitchcock film and I’m sure many of these shots will become iconic in the future of cinema.

The main performances by Merlant and Haenel are exemplary and thanks to excellent chemistry make the romance between them believable and genuinely hope they can remain together for as long as possible. The writing is also brilliant with several powerful lines that convey well the emotion of the lovers.

A notable point about the film is its lack of music apart from a few scenes where the music is from somewhere in the scene. This meant that most scenes play out in complete silence excluding the sound of a brush on canvas, heavy breathing or other small details you wouldn’t usually think of. This makes the film feel a lot more intimate and any music or dialogue all the more significant.

Definitely a slow burn film, excuse the pun, the film may not be for everyone and may even drag for some with entire scenes playing through without dialogue and frequent pauses especially with its two-hour run time. But if you do manage to get past that this French film is definitely worth the watch and is sure to win many awards

Rating: 5/5

Last modified: 6th December 2019

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