brenna’s review published on Letterboxd:
Not everything is fleeting. Some feelings are deep.
From my journal. Sorry to anyone who reads this.
Dec 19, 2019, 1:09 am: I am shattered. My heart is simultaneously bursting at the seams with utter euphoria and drowning in a sea of complete devastation. The storm has come and gone, and I more than willingly threw myself into its loving embrace. I have just finished watching Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Alone in the dark I surrendered myself to the film I have been thinking about nonstop for months. Portrait slowly tore a hole through my chest and gripped my heart, leaving it bruised and burning. It still hasn’t let me go. I don’t know if it ever will. I don’t think I want it to.
It seems almost impossible for me to even begin to put words to what I feel and do this masterpiece justice in the process. I have never written anything like this, and I’m sure it will dissolve into rambling at some point, but here we go. I thought I would be holding my breath for the entirety of the film’s runtime; instead, it immediately felt like I had just come up for air after being stuck underwater for so long. I think Adèle Haenel put it best when she said that this movie serves as a “physical relief” for some of the audience. This is a relief unlike any I have known before.
There’s so much that I want to say, so much that I need to say, but I’m not sure if I know how. Or rather, I’m not sure how to do it in a way that fully conveys what Portrait means to me. I think I will start here: this film is a work of pure art, as countless others have said before me. The level of craftsmanship and care poured into it is evident from the opening shot. Every single frame is composed with undeniably sharp precision and expertise. The camera glides and lingers, the sound design cuts through the charged silences. The crashing waves, the scratch of charcoal on canvas, the breaths exhaled over a crackling fire. Céline Sciamma’s direction is impeccable, and her writing left me breathless. Don’t even get me started on Adèle and Noémie’s performances. I’m talking about these “technical aspects” as though I know much about their complexities; I do not. I don’t think I know as much about cinema as an art form as I would like, but I do know that it has pulled from me some of the deepest emotions I’ve ever felt. That being said, I am fully confident that Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a cinematic wonder and a marvelous feat of storytelling. I consider myself beyond lucky to have been able to experience this movie at this point in my life. I didn’t know just how much I needed it.
I am 21 years old. I have never been in love. I have recently become very ashamed of this fact, even though logically I know there is nothing inherently shameful about it. My prolonged lack of experience with romance sometimes leads me to think that I’ll never really understand what it means to love and desire, what it means to be loved and be desired. Sure, I have been moved to tears by many a great love story on screen, but looking back there always seemed to be a slight disconnect. The needling thought of “Oh, but that’s not something I’ll ever know,” would inevitably pull me back down. But with Portrait, I think I finally get it. What I’ve unknowingly been searching for has been illuminated with blinding clarity. Mutual understanding grounds the love between Marianne and Héloïse. The mere reciprocity of a glance becomes a dance of equals. The surrendering of oneself to the ordeal of being seen. The desire to see someone else for who they truly are through the smallest gestures. The way Héloïse folds her hands in her lap. The way Marianne’s eyes are always searching the room, observing. When you’re embarrassed, you bite your lips. - When you don’t know what to say, you touch your forehead. As they learn more about each other, the love that grows between them feels like it was always there, waiting. Love as understanding. Although their time together is impossibly short, this love is profound, it irreversibly shifts both of their worlds. Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant imbue their performances with such quiet, intoxicating passion that it’s completely electrifying. The subtlest gaze feels like a live wire, the slightest touch a strike of lightning straight through the heart. And when they kiss… well. The film’s final scenes are the most heartbreaking and transcendent moments of cinema that I’ve ever witnessed. By the end, I was reduced to a blubbering, snotty mess trying to contain my sobs in the dark. Portrait of a Lady on Fire broke me open, lifted me up, left me devastated, left me enraptured. I can’t believe this film exists. I will carry it with me always, and for that I am forever grateful.
Don't regret. Remember.