Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★½

So much has been said and written about Portrait of a Lady on Fire, about how Céline Sciamma, Adèle Haenel, and Noémie Merlant are all doing terrific, captivating work, and all that is true. But can we talk about Luàna Bajrami for a minute? Because she might be my favorite part of the entire film, and she barely ever gets mentioned.

Bajrami plays Sophie, the maid, and I fell in love with her on my first viewing of the film even before she became significant in terms of the film's plot. In the beginning, it seems like her main purpose is to give some exposition to Marianne (and at the same time the audience) by setting up the character Héloïse and the uphill battle Marianne will have to fight with her, but she is setting up her own character at the same time: Initially uncertain how much she is supposed to tell this stranger about the inner workings of the family that employs her, she is quickly forming a bond with Marianne and volunteering way more information than she has to, which in turn helps Marianne bond with Héloïse.

In the course of the film, we see Sophie go on a journey all on her own, from a servant to almost an equal to the two main characters (at least in spirit, and only temporarily), and it organically unfolds once her own plot kicks in, and Marianne and Héloïse are helping her rather than the other way round. Portrait of a Lady on Fire tells, almost on its sideline, a story of growth with the character of Sophie, and Luàna Bajrami creates a full, believable character.

That being said, a few more none-Luàna-Bajrami related words of praise:
The first time we see Héloïse's face, when she is quickly turning around after running towards the cliff, is one of the best character introductions of 2019.
I love how, at different points of the film, we see two versions of a portrait of a lady on fire: One at the beginning, when we see a portrait depicting a lady who is on fire, and one not quite halfway through, when we see a portrait (which depicts a lady) on fire.
The scene of Marianne and Héloïse revealing how well they know one another when they reveal each other's tells is simply stunning and one of the best one-on-one dialogue scenes in recent memory.
That scene around the campfire. That song. That cinematography. Certainly the highlight of the film.

The film holds up, and it remains one of the best films of 2019.

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