PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

A film by Céline Sciamma

Cast : Adèle Haenel, Noémie Merlant, Valeria Golino

2019 / historical drama / France / original title : Portrait de la jeune fille en feu / 119’ / Color / status : completed / French / long feature-film

Brittany, France, 1760. Marianne, a painter, is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse, a young lady who has just left the convent. Héloïse is a reluctant bride to be and Marianne must paint her without her knowing. She observes her by day and secretly paints her at night. Intimacy and attraction grow between the two women as they share Héloïse’s first and last moments of freedom, all whilst Marianne paints the portrait that will end it all.

Céline Sciamma (WATER LILIES, Cannes 2007 Un Certain Regard; TOMBOY, Berlin 2011 Jury Prize; GIRLHOOD, Cannes 2014 Directors’ Fortnight Opening Film;
MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI, Cannes 2016 Directors’ Fortnight, Cesar Award for Best Screenplay) reunites with Award-winning actress Adèle Haenel for an intimate and deeply moving period drama.

Production: Lilies Films

French distribution: Pyramide Films

Press

“A Masterpiece. A devastatingly unforgettable story of love and memory. As perfect a film as any to have premiered this year. Razor-sharp and shatteringly romantic. A profoundly tender story about the process of self-discovery and becoming. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a period romance that’s traditional in some ways, progressive in others, and altogether so damn true that it might feel more like staring into a mirror than it does running your eyes over a canvas. The film expresses that discovery as vividly as any that’s ever been made, as the drama’s spartan backdrop only adds to the intensity of its blaze. An unforgettable film that cooks at a low simmer until going incandescent in its closing minutes. It’s a magnificent love story about how our formative romances can shape us and sweep us forward, whether we have to move along because life presents us an opportunity or if we have to move on because life denies us a million more. It’s a film that captures the feeling you get from the last scene of “Roman Holiday” and stretches it over a full two hours in which not a single moment is wasted.”

IndieWire– David Ehrlich

“Made by a filmmaker who is herself, as we say in English nowadays, on fire. At this point, Sciamma is practically throwing off sparks and hot coals as she enters a confident, bigger-risk-taking phase of her career. Assaying her first period film, an exquisitely executed love story that's both formally adventurous and emotionally devastating, she sticks the landing like a UCLA gymnast in peak condition. It's so good you'll want to watch again in slow-motion immediately afterwards just to see how she does it. Sciamma is likely to get the lioness' share of praise for this wonderful film, but the contributions from the cast, especially Merlant and Haenel, are huge factors in its success. The two have combustible, practically fissile chemistry, felt not just in the love scenes but from the dramatic moment when they first see one another's faces at the end of a long bravura tracking shot. Not a moment in this film is wasted, which suits a story about lovers without a moment to lose. ”

The Hollywood Reporter - Leslie Felperin

“A vivid, full-blooded oil portrait of the stolen romantic relationship between two young women. This is a strikingly handsome production which will be admired on a technical level. Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, colour coded smouldering red and forest green gowns respectively, have a persuasive onscreen connection which gives this affair a life of its own – one which will continue long after they part. Most powerful is an eerie vocal piece performed by women gathered for a night time fiesta – there’s a haunting, pagan quality to this keening close harmony chant, it breaks over the film like a wave. In its wake, everything is slightly different.”

Screen International – Wendy Ide

“A sweeping portrayal of a romance doomed to brevity. The film is right to be obsessed with the faces of its two leads. Merlant’s expressions have a rare immediacy, as she seems to digest sights and thoughts with alacrity, while Haenel reveals herself more carefully, never making her intentions or impressions known until she’s ready to. An ecstatic final shot.”

Slant – Christopher Gray

“To say the film lived up to the expectations is something of an understatement. A gorgeously filmed and deeply felt love story, with a lot to say about the role of the artist, the myth of the muse, and how women can only rely on each other in a patriarchal world. There are so many other things I could write about this movie – the moments of hilarious dry humor, the passionate love scenes, how it demonstrates both the constraints of patriarchy and the small ways of protest against it – but really, nothing I write could compare to the experience of seeing the movie itself.”

Awards Daily – Kevin Klawitter

“This absolute marvel of a movie is not to be missed. Imagine if Jane Austen had written a lesbian romance, and you have some idea of the elegant marvel Sciamma has created. Portrait of a Lady On Fire is visually staggering in its beauty. Every frame feels like a painting made of light. Like the film’s artistic heroine, cinematographer Claire Mathon captures these women in light and angles that make them glorious, yet never loses the life of them. The colors, the gesture, the line of a chin falling way to the neck, is all defined on-screen like a masterfully applied brushstroke.”

Pajiba - Kristy Puchko

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire is as smart as it as emotionally trenchant. Sciamma's precise compositions and evocative editing aren't just formal flexes but integral steps in developing her characters' bond from diametric opposites to furtive collaborators and finally partners.”

Film Freak Central - Angelo Muredda

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