Portrait of a Lady on Fire Film Review

In March, we celebrate women and their importance in our communities, from marching on the streets to watching them on the screen! Since 1913, March 8 has been deemed International Women’s Day or the United Nations’ Day for Women’s Rights to help worldwide nations reduce discrimination against women, fight for equality and their participation in global development.

What better way to celebrate women this month than through a film? Perhaps one written, directed, filmed, crewed by and featuring women from the background actors to the lead cast? Look no further than Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), written and directed by Céline Sciamma, cinematography by Claire Mathon as the cinematographer, and starring Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami and Valeria Golino. The film notably reclaims the existence of non-heterosexual relationships and abortions in the late 18th century. As a French-Canadian aspiring female screenwriter, it was empowering to witness the beautiful and heart wrenching world they created and the story they laid out onscreen at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Portrait of a Lady on Fire follows painter Marianne who is hired by Héloïse’s mother. She wants her daughter to have her portrait done in order to send her off to get married after she leaves the convent, preceding her older daughter’s suspected suicide. To her mother’s dismay, Héloïse is delaying her wedding by refusing to pose, wearing painters down or shooing them away. Thus, Héloïse’s mother hires Marianne so she can paint her daughter in secret, pretending to be her walking companion. Forced to observe the beautiful Héloïse for long periods of time, the two’s chemistry grows into something more than a friendship.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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From the actors’ subdued yet powerful facial expressions to the beautiful tracking shots in Saint-Pierre-Quiberon in Brittany and in the La Chapelle-Gauthier, Seine-et-Marne castle, I sat on the edge of my seat, the wisp of the wind on my cheek. The swooping “Concerto No. 2 for violin in G minor” soundtrack composed by Antonio Vivaldi and performed by La Serenissima and Adrian Chandler certainly helped prolong the nostalgia and painful hope I felt for the star-crossed characters already prescribed by their family as heterosexual. The actors’ mingling of harmonies during their performance of “La Jeune Fille en Feu” around the campfire, Héloise and Marianne locking eyes enticingly built the elastic tension of the film, rendering their awaited first kiss that much more powerful and rebellious.


I personally found every single part of this film aesthetically pleasing, from the locations to the castle and classroom’s set decorations to the actresses’ corset dresses to their makeup subtly enhancing their features, their pulled back hair gently outlining their profiles. With an 8.2/10 on IMDb, 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and 90 percent of Google users having loved the film, you will truly not want to miss this one! And while you’re at it, consider supporting local women filmmakers from your own community!