Austin Burke’s review published on Letterboxd:
Patreon video review coming🔜
2019 list - Click HERE
Céline Sciamma is a Director that I have heard plenty about for years, but the will/opportunities just have not been present to watch her filmography. Now, there is a massive reason to go check out more of her work, and that reason is Portrait of a Lady on Fire. This film is visually gorgeous in almost every single way. The colors are vibrant, and the crisp high definition only adds to the fact that you feel like you are there with them. There is no reason why this film shouldn’t be (at least) discussed for multiple Oscar nominations. I wouldn’t personally give it a Best Picture nomination, but it would be refreshing if it had a chance to steal a spot. The Oscars are just becoming overly predictable now, and most of it has to do with how well they can market themselves to get a nomination.
Being a foreign film, and one that (apparently) France isn’t even using as their selection for the Best Foreign Film race; what I said doesn’t necessarily apply here, but I enjoy ranting about The Oscars. Regardless, the main point is that this is an Oscar-caliber film. What captivated me most was less the dialogue and more the inner drama. We meet two young women, who are very different by nature, but each has a way of telling their story without saying too much. Expression is key in a film like this, and our two leads absolutely nail that. Everything is both dense, yet simple, simultaneously, in a way that has yet to be displayed in a similar fashion over the last few years. There is (occasionally) a difference between something that is entertaining, and something that is art.
Art can be entertaining, sure, and entertainment can be done in an artistic fashion. As movie fans, we are expected to dissect and attempt to distinguish what we care about most. I’ve always been much more of an “entertainment” guy, but lately, the more artistic films have hit me just as hard (if not harder). This film isn’t entertaining, but it didn’t have to be. Its mission was to display a forbidden, and beautifully subtle romance on screen; in a way that captures a small part of us. We are transported to a time when everything was different, and to a time where being yourself was only a dream. It slowly becomes unclear whether Marianne is observing Héloïse in the way that she does because this is a requirement, or if this is just something she wants for herself. I knew nothing about the actual plot going in, so it should be the same for you, but know that it all unfolds in a beautifully unexpected manner.
The lack of a sweeping score also ended up supplementing the experience. The voices (almost to an ASMR level), the waves from the ocean crashing down, and the footsteps all act as a score carrying us from one scene to the next. It’s quiet, colorful, occasionally vibrant, and occasionally grim/dim. It all comes back to where our characters are (emotionally) at that moment, and with love, you can never be sure. Because of its pacing; it may not be something I watch again for quite awhile. While the film is visual splendor, it did take around 20 minutes to get as interested as they intended. Once you’re hooked, it has you, but until then; just know that it may take a few scenes. For others, it just won’t catch your interest at all, but I encourage you to allow yourself to be swept away if you can. Do not be afraid to make yourself vulnerable for this one. It’s definitely something I struggle with on occasion. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an experience, and one that deserves its place in the ”best movies of 2019” discussion.