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In 18th century France a young painter, Marianne, is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse without her knowing. Therefore, Marianne must observe her model by day to paint her portrait at night. Day by day, the two women become closer as they share Héloïse's last moments of freedom before the impending wedding.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a stunningly emotive love story, painted with the same delicacy and craft as an 18th Century oil masterpiece.
Artist Marianna (played with subtle precision by Noemie Merlant) arrives on the coast of Brittany in 1770. She is tasked with painting the portrait of the mysterious Heloise (Adele Haenel) who is soon to be wed to a stranger against her will. Heloise has refused all previous attempts to pose, so Marianna must paint her from memory. The pair walk daily along the French coastline, the crashing waves mirroring the ebbs and flows of their relationship. At night, the pair play cards by candlelight and visit local bonfires, the flickering flames a consistent metaphor for their burning desires.
Celine Sciamma's all-female cast provide a restrained and touching experience, which feels like a direct antidote to male-dominated gun-slinging action films. How refreshing to watch a love story unfold through the eyes of a woman. Every scene painted with subtlety and care, and every moment given weight and meaning. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an immensely satisfying viewing experience, and I can't wait to see it again.
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