Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Vampire Owl: Have you read The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James?

Vampire Bat: Yes, I had read that novel as a part of writing an assignment during my English Language and Literature post graduation.

Vampire Owl: What would adding some fire to the title mean?

Vampire Bat: I don’t think that this has any relation with it. This one is actually French. This is not Korean or Chinese for a change. Let this burn bright!

Vampire Owl: So, the portrait is not really the portrait that one might be led to believe it is. I would still choose a Polaroid camera instead.

Vampire Bat: It was about a young woman who inhered a large amount of money, and becoming prey to some scheming.

Vampire Owl: I have heard about the author, but most of the people I know haven’t.

Vampire Bat: Well, he hasn’t been writing the kind of works, the vampires have been reading, and so its natural not to know.

Vampire Owl: So, you are now choosing French.

Vampire Bat: Yes, we have been going further international these days.

[Gets a vancho cake and three cups of masala tea].

What is the movie about? :: The story is set at some time period during the end of the late eighteenth century. Marianne (Noemie Merlant) is a young painter who takes painting classes to her eager students. As she makes them paint her portrait, one of her students asks her about a special painting from her, which Marianne used to call Portrait de la jeune fille en feu. It takes us back to the origins of that particular painting, and the same has a close relationship with Marianne’s past and her emotional side. Once upon a time, Marianne was called to an isolated island in Brittany in the west of France, to paint a portrait of a young woman named Heloise (Adele Haenel) by her mother The Countess (Valeria Golino). Marianne struggles to reach there, as she herself, and the canvas falls into the sea on her way.

So, what happens with the events here? :: There, she meets Sophie (Luana Bajrami), a beautiful young girl who works as the servant to the Countess and her daughter. They become good friends, and comes to know that Heloise was at the convent, and was forced to come back to marry a wealthy Italian nobeleman because her sister had died, supposed to have jumped off a cliff. Now, this portrait is to be sent to that possible husband of Heloise as soon as possible. The Countess says that her daughter was not ready to pose in front of any painter, and so Marianne will have to pretend that she was someone who had come to accompany her during her walks, to get rid of her boredom. It seemed to be the only way for her, and Marianne started being friends with Heloise who arrived there. She also started observing Heloise enough to paint her in parts. But there will be more than just a painting that we will be having here.

The defence of Portrait of a Lady on Fire :: There is some beautiful serenity that runs through this movie and its silence which serves more than anything else, as the main actresses really make a lovely impact with their expressions and body language itself, getting us immersed into this tale set in the late eighteenth century Brittany. The setting is incredibly beautiful, making you wish to make a visit, and one wonders where this particular island stands in history. This environment created as part of this movie is a charming one, but it is also a very simple one – it is not that usually colourful world from a grand historical past as we usually see in historical drama, action or thriller movies. We go through the eyes of an artist who is not just a painter, but someone with intimate feelings which she seems to have gained in connection to her work on the canvas – it reflects there as much as it shows up in her soul.

The claws of flaw :: Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a very slow movie, as you might have expected it from the talks about it, and also by what you have further read about the same. The movie also has some moments which are not utilized the best, especially related to the artistic work, the painting. The focus could have been more on that painting, and the artists feelings should have been above the person’s intimacy. There is also a lot of time taken in the beginning, and in between, which is felt more because of the movie’s slow pace. There could have also been some more characters to provide support, and this movie’s viewpoints are rather limited when you look at it. There is a lot of silence and a good number of dialogues, but there is less happening for the people who are looking for that as the thing which defines a movie – after all, this is close to being what you call the award movie in this part of the world. Two hours were not needed for this movie for sure.

Performers of the soul :: Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a movie nominated for Golden Palm, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival, where it lost to the Korean Oscar Winner, Parasite, and so you know that this one had to score in its performances more than anything else. It has to be noted that all the main characters in this movie are female, and you see some men for that amount of time which can be better counted using seconds rather than minutes. The movie is that much dependent on its female characters, especially the two main ladies, with more to be added from a third young character, and a little more from the much older character who plays the mother. I haven’t watched many French movies, but Noemie Merlant is the one lovely actress who has come up with a perfect performance here which cannot be matched. She has been very expressive, and very much enchanting as the painter, closely followed by Adele Haenel who manages almost the same. Luana Bajrami, the next important character is done well, and Valeria Golino is there for less time, and does fine.

How it finishes :: The movie is not to be confused with The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, as the title only has the addition of fire in the end, which might have been enough to prove its point. But people are more or less attracted into feeling that this is the same thing, and only the fact that this is not a British or American movie making them feel that this is something else. But the movie is not a lesser classic when you look at it, as it feels like an old-fashioned throughout its run. It is a slow-moving thing of charm, which makes sure that the moments are there to stay. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is more or less a feeling set in that historical period, and it has that delicate beauty with the realistic touch which is to stay for the beauty of tranquility, and not for what we usually remember a movie for. Portrait of a Lady on Fire takes you through the different, classic path.

Release date: 18th September 2019
Running time: 120 minutes
Directed by: Celine Sciamma
Starring: Noemie Merlant, Adele Haenel, Luana Bajrami, Valeria Golino

<— Click here to go to the previous review.

@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.


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