Evan Lee Ambrose’s review published on Letterboxd:
🔥 SDiFF 2019 🔥
You can’t describe the premise of Portrait of a Lady on Fire without somehow giving away clues about what the film’s staple plot is. Truthfully, the movie doesn’t reveal it’s true colors until its final shot, where the message of the movie hits firmer than any other consequential implication from other releases this year. For the rest of the film’s entirety, it‘s a grouping of mainly idyllic events, packed with golden commentary and synchronized to a natural tone that’ll have viewers in a trance of tense integrity.
So, in that case, I’ll do my very best reviewing this while being as vague as humanly possible about the plot.
Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of Lady on Fire is a bittersweet drama set on a beautifully simplistic island where a painter must create a portrait of a vaguely peculiar character. The film follows an extremely well-known and repetitive anecdote, but is depicted by an eccentrically patient build-up of events that makes the final product return as some sort of uprising against the cinematic trend it’s based on.
Sciamma is a truly sensational writer. Her incorporation on the philosophy of human nature made this fourth feature film of hers strikingly intriguing. Portrait of Lady on Fire inspects how we subjectively interpret physical appearance, how attraction strangely functions, why we seek love in the first place, and the sardonic situations that can guide us to romance. There’s just so much subtle debate to be extracted from the picture’s personal and intricate journey.
In terms of nitpicks, I found the cinematography to be pretty 50/50. However, whenever the film flared off that other, more positive 50, the scenery was unforgettable. And again, the film’s narrative does escort about 90% of a story that we’ve seen before and that has been milked to death a kajillion times, but it’s handled so expertly that it’s quite difficult to get aggravated at it entirely.
Oh yeah, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire has the best closing shot of the year, hands down.
And FYI, if you haven’t seen Portrait of a Lady on Fire yet and you’re planning on it, please do not watch the trailer! It reveals wayyyy too much in my humble opinion. Go in blind like I did!
🏅 Verdict: A-