France's entry into this year's Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film, "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" burns with desire, sparked by two stunningly raw performances.
"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" is much more than a same-sex, forbidden love story, but to general audience's it may be nothing more than an "art house film." Set in the 1800s (and shot beautifully by "Atlantics" cinematographer, Claire Mathon), Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is a painter who is hired by a wealthy noblewoman to paint a portrait of her young daughter, Héloise (Adéle Haenel). In this day and age, the portrait would be used to woo some wealthy suitors, like the Milanese baron that is on the hook to wed Héloise. But the subject is very elusive...as Marianne soon learns, the last hired artist was not able to capture her at all. So Marianne is brought in as a "walking companion," who is to study and memorize Héloise and then paint her in secret.
But Marianne not only draws her subject, she's drawn in by her. It's an attraction that becomes obsession not too far after. They share a forbidden romance, and drama is created by the fine-tuned, honed-in performances of the film's two leads.
Much has been said about the aesthetic beauty of this movie: It was not only nominated for Best International Feature Film, but also for Best Cinematography, a well-deserved laurel. But "Portrait" is a slow burn, a bubbling-up and boiling-over romance that is sure to ignite the soul of anyone who gets too close to its flickering flames. Unlike its Neon counterpart, Best Picture and Best International Film winner, "Parasite," "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" is a much tougher sell to general audiences, who might just turn a cold shoulder to this beautiful, but slow and somewhat stuffy, period-piece.
Genre: Drama, Romance.
Run Time: 2 hours and 2 minutes.
Starring: Noémie Merlant, Adéle Haenel, Luana Bajrami.
Written and Directed by Céline Sciamma ("Girlhood," "Tomboy").
"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" opens in theaters on Friday, February 28th, 2020.
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