Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★★

Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire is everything you want from a period love story: highlighting the looks to observe and being caught, noting body language and what that means for desire, and making you feel like you're watching something dirty when it's actually just an armpit being fingered.

It's also as close to the society of Lesbos as we'll ever see, using the setting of an isolated high society rock where a young woman (Adèle Haenel) staves off being married away by her mother by refusing to pose for her portrait to send to him. A female painter (Noémie Merlant) is brought in as a companion to take her on walks around the windswept island, so that she can observe her naturally and paint her from memory in order to seal a marriage for a nobleman in Milan. Because there are no consequential roles for men, I'm not certain but I wouldn't be shocked if you never even heard one speak, Sciamma has made an achingly intimate feminine film that touches not just on desire, but also women who let their guard down to describe a friend as ugly, or to discuss their missed periods, or make each day that the matriarch is away count in undress. There is no score, so Portrait of a Lady on Fire earns its status as a major love story through quiet observations, with the exception of one stunning chant around a fire by the women who create tonics to rid of unwanted pregnancy. There is an abortion scene that is filmed while the woman who's aborting her pregnancy is lying next to the abortionist's infant child who cries for her hand. There is a vision of the bride to be that haunts the painter. There are so many resplendent touches delivered so matter of factly. Summed up perfectly with the response to the question "you dreamt of me?" being "no, I thought of you." This is a grounded and divine love story in which you'll never be able to look at the number 28 again without your heart swelling, or hear the words "turn back" and know what gift you are giving to the observer.

Just wonderful.

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