Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★

2019 Ranked

Almost considered waiting until the discussion around it had died down to watch this given the immense praise it has received on the Internet out of potential fear it might not live up to the hype for me at all (the frequent comparisons to Call Me By Your Name certainly didn’t help, as I personally found that film to be painfully boring; though, Guadagnino doesn’t seem to work for me in general), but I couldn’t be happier to be proven wrong.

From a filmmaking standpoint, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is masterful. The cinematography, costumes, and production design are especially top notch. The two central performances are phenomenal as well, with both leads selling every aspect of their respective roles, and the chemistry between them is palpable. As a result, the film is at its best when it’s focusing on the central relationship, especially in the second half.

What’s holding me back from giving the film a higher rating is that while I was *mostly* entranced, I admittedly felt there were some minor lulls here and there, and that’s partly because I would’ve liked a stronger sense of clarity at points (i.e., what was the point of the maid subplot?*). While I usually really love when films are ambiguous, I felt there was a bit too much ambiguity at times, and it was somewhat detrimental to the film. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the film felt distant or dull per se, but I feel like a bit more clarity and slightly tighter pacing would’ve caused me to really love it. That said, the last 40 minutes or so fully captivated me.

Overall, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an exceptional film, and I completely understand why it’s gotten so much acclaim and why so many people connect with it on a deeper level. While it admittedly didn’t leave as much of an impression on me as it did on most (though I can see the film really growing on me over time), I’d highly recommend it regardless.

*EDITUpon further thought, I‘d like to clarify that I understand what it means thematically, but I feel it detracts from the core narrative (that being the central relationship) given that the core narrative already tied into the same thematic content.

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