[Header Image: Adèle Haene as Héloïse and Noémie Merlant as Marianne | Pyramide Films]
“Do all lovers feel they’re inventing something?”
Yesterday, I logged onto MUBI to find that they had Portrait of a Lady on Fire available to watch, a movie that was very high up on my watchlist last year and I have to say, I’m so happy I finally got to see it and that it was even better than I ever thought it would be.
With its lingering shots and long drawn out moments filled with nothing but ambient sounds or even just pure silence, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is in absolutely no rush to tell its story. While it might take its time, no part of it feels drawn out or boring. Every second feels deliberate and that level of intention draws you in and makes it impossible to look away. On the surface, it really is a simple premise — a woman, Marianne (played by Noémie Merlant) has been commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse (played by Adèle Haene) — but it’s a lot more layered than that. There’s a ton going on, fronted primarily by the growing and changing relationship of these two women (as well as their indentities), but due to its pacing, it doesn’t feel messy at all.
The story of these two women is stunning and not only is it easy to fall in love with said story but with them as well. The cast for this movie is minimal but every character is wonderful to watch and all of them bring something important to the movie and are used so perfectly. There is no reliance on action to drum up tension and beyond a couple of instances of music, most of the tension comes from those long, drawn-out shots that are either in pure silence or only feature ambient sounds. As an audience member, watching this movie feels like being nudged forward in the sense that there’s constantly something to focus on and the story is always moving along even if it is slowly. However, at the same time, it also feels like your hand is being held and you’re being pulled forward, the narrative guiding you through a wonderfully structured movie and telling the story to you in an easy-to-digest way.
With the way each shot is framed, the movement of the camera, and the subtle (and even limited) colour palette, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is also visually stunning. It really is the perfect package and a movie that is timeless in a lot of ways. It’ll make you feel so many things so suddenly. For me, it was almost impossible to put into words what those feelings were after I inititally watched it but there were a lot of feelings nonethless and I’m more than happy to let it happen all over again when I (hopefully) re-watch this in the near future.
Rating: ★★★★★ /5