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cinemaspeak59

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

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Héloïse, in a mesmerizing performance by Adèle Haenel, is a sheltered young woman who refuses to have her portrait painted, a prerequisite to her marrying the wealthy Milanese suitor chosen by her mother (Valeria Golino). Héloïse's  mother commissions a new artist, Marianne, an equally hypnotic Noémie Merlant, in the hope Marianne can succeed where male painters could not.  Subterfuge is needed. Marianne, under the pretense of a walking companion, paints Héloïse  in secret by making mental notes of her features.  But Héloïse is also studying Marianne; and their scenes together create an exquisite tension of not only will they or won’t they, but when.

The Portrait of a Lady on Fire is set in the late eighteenth century, in the picturesque French coast of Brittany. It proceeds at a gentle, Chekhovian pace.  Director Céline Sciamma creates a feminist chamber piece that examines, in the most intimate detail, what it’s like to be a woman, and specifically a woman in the late eighteenth century.  The story of Marianne and Héloïse is a story of lovers, but it soars into the heavens because it is the love story of poets.  Grade: A

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