Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★½

'Is that how you see me?'

Broader socio-political connotations aside, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is simply a breathtaking work of art-a thoughtful, beautifully realised period piece with a deeply affecting love story. Céline Sciamma's hypnotically paced film demands that you forget the hectic modern world for a few hours and readjust to this simpler and more soulful, but sadly also regressive way of living. It arouses something deeper and profoundly moving in the audience through the astonishing performances of both Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, who give fiercely impassioned portrayals of women whose love for one another they know is forbidden and cannot be, thus the short time they have together must be worth a lifetime.

In a scenario similar to Bergman's Persona (Sciamma definitely drew some inspiration from his work) we see two personalities begin to bleed into one, where the distinction between artist and subject, observer and observed is fundamentally challenged, even reversed entirely. The beauty and personal worth of an artists work is shaped by the emotions of personal life experiences and in the pre-photography age, paintings were a vital method of visually representing and preserving memories.

With the addition of Luana Bajrami as the maid who befriends the two women it becomes a spellbinding dynamic, one built on mutual trust and affection that's so totally captivating you can't take your eyes way from the screen, even for a second. The windswept coastal geography is captured in a series of gorgeous long shots and the naturalistic lighting perfectly represented by the digital photography. Cinema at its most devastatingly poetic.

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