Dannon Sanders, Writer

The purpose of a portrait is to capture a moment in time along with the memories, emotions, and experiences that are found within it. The French film Portrait of a Lady on Fire do this effectively enough to not only be considered a masterpiece of cinema, but also an experience worthy of being remembered as a phenomenal piece of art.

The story takes place in 1760 France as we follow Marianne, portrayed by Noémie Marant, an artist commissioned to paint the portrait of a soon to be bride, played by Adèle Haenel. Her job is made difficult when she is told her work must be completed in secret, as the bride, Héloïse, refuses to pose for a portrait that contributes to the inevitable marriage she’ll be forced into. Their relationship strengthens gradually as the gazes between the women become more amorous and their experiences more sensual. As Marianne and Héloïse embark on their journey of star-crossed lovers, the audience can do nothing but watch in awe and embark on the journey with them.

Céline Sciamma, the writer and director, was able to create a love story that captures the essence of the female gaze and female sexuality. But the most remarkable feat of Sciamma is that she was able to portray how confining the patriarchy was for women without featuring a man on screen for more than five seconds. As Héloïse enjoys her freedom as much as possible throughout the movie, the audience can see her constant dread of the fact that it will soon be taken away once she is married. Because of Haenel’s breathtaking performance, the audience can feel the pain of losing what we take for granted today.

Along with all of the talented writing and acting that is present in this movie, the aspect of the film that really warrants its praise is the cinematography. The way this story is filmed is what truly gives it the feel of a painting and an overall work of art. Almost every single shot in this movie can be paused and framed for its beauty. From the mesmerizing beach cliffs to the aesthetically pleasing decor of the mansion, this movie is sensational to the eyes as well as the heart. The cinematography, again much like a painting, also helps in conveying tones and emotions. With clever angles and switching of perspectives, the emotion of the characters and the world of the film is felt more intensely by the audience.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire does its duty of storytelling so magically that it perfectly depicts memories, emotions, and experiences well enough to capture a moment in time, making it an impactful art piece as well as a movie.