Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Directed by Céline Sciamma

Starring Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino


Beautifully shot, with seamless, natural-looking lighting and painterly photography that make some frames look like they could be paintings all on their own. Nice, long takes give every scene a slow, pensive feel. But there’s maybe a bit too much of that. There are moments when the beautiful images make the story sputter to a stop.

An ode to lesbian love. The French, perhaps because of their sexually open culture, have no qualms about making movies about torrid lesbian love affairs. Watching this, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Blue Is the Warmest Colour. The lesbian love affair is indeed graphic and intense, but if you strip away the spectacle and taboo of lesbianism in the 18th century, what do we have here? I can’t help but feel that if the same story was told about heterosexual love, it would be a very boring movie.

Merlant looks like a mousy Emma Watson. Her performance as an inwardly emotional artist is wonderful. Haenel’s performance as her explosive, angry counterpart is just as wonderful. She looks like the love-child of Virginia Madsen and Kate Winslet. Golino is a surprise. She pulls off the role, and her French is impressive.

Dramatically, what purpose did the horrifying abortion scenes serve? There should be real dramatic justification to include subject matter so disturbing. And I think they should have shown that portrait of a lady on fire one last time to cleanly bookend the film.

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