Have you ever wondered what it took to be a female artist in the eighteenth century? No me neither. Portrait of a Lady on Fire movie goes some way to opening up this world, as well as life for young women of a marrying age.
The story begins with young artist Marianne (Noemie Merlant) making her way to her next job. The assignment sees her riding the waves in a very small boat to an isolated island in Brittany.
Having finally made it to the island. blank canvases in tact, she meets her client La Comtesse (Valeria Golino) who informs her she is to paint a portrait of a young woman Heloise (Adele Haenel). Sounds simple, however the previous artist evidently became so frustrated he gave up.
The trouble is Heloise is destined for marriage and in those days it was an arranged marriage. Before the marriage can take place the groom must approve and to do so he is sent a portrait of the lady in question. Kind of like an ancient Tinder swipe right of left, if you want.
Not wanting to marry Heloise refuses to sit for the painting. But La Comtesse has a cunning plan (as you do). Marianne is to pose as a c onfident who has arrived to go for walks and generally be a convivial companion, after the sudden passing of Heloise’s sister.
Without saying too much, the ruse begins as does the painting. But when friendships start to form the deception becomes more difficult, particularly when the two ladies are left alone in the house with the maid Sophie (Luana Barjrami).
Portrait of a Woman on Fire engages all the senses, from the slow, scratchy, charcoal strokes, to the violent ripping of bread and furtive glances, all the way up to the powerful final scene. An exploration of love, the film won Best Screen Play at Cannes.
Having lived with an artist or many a year, it was a delight to sit and watch a painting take shape again. The slow meditative process still amazes me. The cinematography cleverly evoked painting like qualities. I loved the Mona Lisa like smile and the powerful ending which caught me by surprise and made up for a few slower moments.