Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Céline Sciamma creates a beautiful, sad love story; the particulars both don’t matter (the strength of ill-fated romances is universal) and do matter (time, place, participants are what make this special). What the film has to say about love and memory is as deep and memorable as what it has to say about the role that women have in that particular (but also not only in that particular) setting. The two main characters are well-written and superbly performed. Noémie Merlant has a serious, observant, intent gaze, which suffers subtle shifts as she gets more emotionally involved with her subject. Adèle Haenel carries herself with regal elegance, but one feels that still waters run deep, and her character has smartness and sensibility to spare. The work of cinematographer Claire Mathon is beautiful, as befits a film about a painter: the lighting is exquisite, the framing is painterly and some of the external images are hard to forget. The film barely uses music, but when it does, it’s for maximum effect.
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