Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★½

CRITERION CHALLENGE 2021
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#50 of 52

I enjoyed the story a bit more on my second watch, but what will keep bringing me back is the stunning cinematography. There must be fifty moments that could easily work as either a portrait or landscape, and others that would work as everyday life genre paintings. It is simply beautiful to look at in every way, and both Claire Mathon and Céline Sciamma deserve the nearly unanimous praise that came their way.

The story and the passionate intensity Marianne wanted to bring to her portrait of Heloise struck home harder this time. She couldn't be satisfied with what she put on canvas because it couldn't match the intensity of her own passion, or the explosion of feeling when that passion was answered.

Sciamma made a beautifully wrought feminist love story without the usual tropes of battling men or facing the wrath of society. She makes it deeply personal by taking the action to an intimate and remote island. The music was all naturally occurring so that it never intruded or guided our emotional responses, and I truly wish more films would use sound design and diegetic music instead of bombarding us with constant emotional breadcrumbs to guide us.

This was my final film in the 2021 Criterion Challenge, which I successfully spread out from January to December without getting too far ahead of myself. Damn, I'm impressed with my patience!

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