PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE – Review by Karen Gordon

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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.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Portrait of a Lady on Fire is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for December 6, 2019

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Karen Gordon

Karen Gordon is a film critic, arts journalist, radio producer, as well as a story editor and narration writer for documentary TV and film. Her recent project the IMAX film “Volcanoes: Fires of Creation” premiered in fall 2018, and will roll out internationally through 2019. She hosts, and does live Q&A’s at film events. She has ghost written three best selling cookbooks, with celebrity chef David Rocco.