Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait De La Jeune Fille En Feu) is a stately-paced slow-burn of a film about repression, love, and the secret life of women in the 18th century, and beyond.
Writer/Director Céline Sciamma sets her film in 1770 in France. Painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) has been summoned to an isolated house on a rugged island in Brittany and commissioned to paint a portrait of a lovely young woman named Heloise (Adèle Haenel).
The job is straightforward. The circumstances are not.
Heloise is to be married to a nobleman from Milan, whom she has never met. She is deeply unhappy and has refused to pose for the portrait, causing the previous portrait painter to quit in frustration. Her mother The Countess (Valeria Golino), has concocted a plan. Heloise has been told Marianne is a companion, hired for a week, to accompany her on daily walks. Marianne will then retire to her room and paint the portrait from memory.
The two walk and talk. Heloise is keenly aware of her feelings and able to articulate them. The two women have different paths. Marianne does not plan to marry and, given that she has a vocation, doesn’t have to. Both are serious and thoughtful. They don’t fill their time with chatter, but are more reflective. Continue reading.