Gabriel Idusogie’s review published on Letterboxd:
Ok, I'm back with some composed thoughts.
The first half of the film really struggled to keep me engaged and I began to think if I was watching the film right. I knew it was supposed to be a romance but all I saw was drama and people just staring at each other (which is not bad) but I felt no tension, no longing, just stares. The screenplay was full of profound statements that seemed kinda idk, contrived? Like Sciamma was really going out of her way to be poignant. Really stylized and not at all natural. But while I was thinking this, I realized that this is a LGBTQ romance and I am heterosexual so perhaps that's why I couldn't get into it. But I loved Moonlight, I have it on blue ray and I think it's one of the best films of the decade. So why am I having trouble with Portrait of a Lady on Fire? The cinematography was beautiful. The beauty of the Island of Britanny despite its obvious isolating effects was wonderfully captured. My fav shot has to be when Heloise is "bathing." If I recall correctly it's a extreme wide angle long shot where she is miniscule in ththe frame, really drawing attention to her loneliness. But in the background, if you look closely, you can see sun rays bursting through the clouds and hitting the ocean and it was like God was shining through or something. Like despite this island being a lonely place, happiness could be found there. The energy and kinetic pace I was searching for made itself known in the secomd half of the film. Perhaps it was because Sophie became more apparent and her arc was a painful one to watch (in a good way). Seeing her having to make a difficult decision like that made my heart go out for her.
As we know, the lovers do not wind up together but Heloise has not forgotten Marianne (that lovely call back painting). We end the film with Marianne watching Heloise from afar. We then close with a medium close up of Heloise having an emotional reaction to a work of art (an orchestra playing) and I was reminded of how similar that experience is to watching a film in a theatre. It's a shame I never really had that reaction at any point when I watched the film. As such, I'm gonna have to take my heart away and be honest with my rating.