Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu)


Love in flames.

(2019) Romance (NEON) Noémie Merlant, Adele Haenel, Luána Bajrami, Valeria Golino, Christel Baras, Armande Boulanger, Guy Delamarche, Clément Bouyssou, Cécile Morel, Michéle Clément. Directed by Céline Sciamma

 

The Darkwave band Black Tape for a Blue Girl did a song “A Love That Dare Not Be” which is heartbreaking in nearly every respect; the music itself creates a melancholic mood and there’s the realization that few people have ever heard the song and it so deserves to be heard.

In fact, their Ashes in the Brittle Air album dovetails nicely with Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the latest from French writer-director Sciamma and her most exciting work to date. It is a period piece, set in the mid-to-late 18th century in an isolated chateau on the seacoast of Brittany.

Marianne (Merlant) has been commissioned to paint a portrait of Hélöise (Haenel), the daughter of the countess (Golino) who lives there. Hélöise has just been yanked out of the convent to take the place of her sister in a marriage to a Milanese nobleman; the portrait is to be used to pique interest in the girl as potential marriage material. However, Hélöise is wise to the game and refused to sit for a portrait with the previous painter, who grew frustrated at her obstinance and quit.

Marianne is there in the guise of a companion to accompany Hélöise on walks around the chateau. The countess is concerned that Hélöise might suffer the same fate as her sister, who fell from the cliffs. The house’s sole servant, Sophie (Bajrami) believes it was suicide because the girl didn’t utter a sound on the way to her death.

Marianne is meant to paint surreptitiously in the evening hours. Her canvas and painting supplies are hidden behind privacy partitions. During the day the two women hang out and soon develop a friendship. Marianne is forced by circumstances to notice the details of Hélöise; the curve of her neck, the cartilage of her ears, the elegance of her fingers. Before long, the friendship develops into something deeper – the proverbial love that dare not speak its name.

This is one of the most beautifully shot movies I’ve seen in a while and I’ve seen some good ones. The composition is exquisite, done with a painter’s eye. Whether it is Hélöise standing alone in front of crashing waves on the shore, or Hélöise, Marianne and Sophia cresting a hill at dusk in the wild light of sunset, or Marianne alone before the fire, naked and puffing on a pipe contemplatively, each shot has purpose, each shot conveys emotion.

The emotions are at the center of the performances of Haenel and Merlant. Both are up for Best Actress awards at the César awards that are being presented this coming Friday – the French Oscars. Either performance is award-worthy, although I don’t know how you would choose between the two. Haenel is more reserved, somewhat more melancholy. Merlant has the advantage of being the narrator and setting the tone in that sense. The chemistry between them is natural and believable.

\Throughout the film there are references to the legend of Orpheus – he’s the bard whose love Eurydice died young, so he made the perilous journey into the underworld to beg Lord Hades for him to release her back to the world. Hades, moved by Orpheus’ artistry, grants the request with the caveat that Orpheus must lead the way and not turn back until both of them have left the Underworld; if he obeys, they will live whatever time they have left. If not, Eurydice goes right back into the afterlife, not passing go nor collecting $200. Human nature being what it is, Orpheus looks back as the end is in sight and loses his girl forever.

Hélöise, Marianne and Sophie discuss the meanings of the myth but there are also some other references; appearances of paintings based on the myth and near the end of the movie, as Marianne is leaving the chateau with her Hélöise promised to another, she hears the admonition to turn around and beholds Hélöise in a white wedding-like dress behind her. As Marianne shuts the door, Hélöise disappears from view.

There is a lot of depth here, too much to get into in one article but enough that you’ll be talking about it with your film buff friends for a long time to come. The two-hour movie takes a bit of time to get going, but once it hits its stride it holds your attention firmly. This had a one-day theatrical preview event back in December but is just now hitting a general release. Their distributor, which is still in a celebratory mood after one of their films won the Best Picture Oscar, can start celebrating again; this is another amazing film for their library and one which could very well be part of next year’s Oscar conversation.

REASONS TO SEE: A master class on camera composition. A haunting choral piece really heightens the mood. Wonderful use of the Orpheus myth.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit too long; it drags a bit in the beginning.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some nudity and sexuality including one brief scene of graphic sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the festival scene, the women sing a choral version of Non Possunt Fugere which is Latin for “They Cannot Escape.” The song is repeated during the closing credits.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/20: Rotten Tomatoes:98% positive reviews: Metacritic: 95/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Breathe In
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations

New Releases for the Week of February 21, 2020


THE CALL OF THE WILD

(20th Century Fox) Harrison Ford, Karen Gillan, Omar Sy, Bradley Whitford, Dan Stevens, Cara Gee, Jean Louisa Kelly, Wes Brown, Terry Notary. Directed by Chris Sanders

Based on the classic Jack London novel, this is the tale of Buck, a dog with a big heart but unfortunately a clumsy manner, the latter of which gets him exiled from his comfortable California home to the wilds of Alaska, He makes friends with a curmudgeonly loner and ends up making his own destiny as the leader of a mail sled dog team.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for some violence, peril, thematic elements and mild language)

10 Things to Do Before We Break Up

(Vision) Christina Ricci, Hamish Linklater, Jon Abrahams, Katia Winter. Two people who don’t believe in love get together in a relationship they both know is doomed, but it soon becomes apparent neither one of them wants it to end.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Old Mill Playhouse
Rating: NR

The Assistant

(Bleecker Street) Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Mackenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth. A young woman fresh out of college gets her dream job working as an executive assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. As her day goes by, she begins to notice the subtle degradation that permeates her job and decides at last to take a stand.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for some language)

Atlantics

(Netflix) Mame Sane, Amadou Mbow, Nicole Sougou, Aminata Kane. A group of construction workers in Dakar who haven’t been paid for months abandon their jobs and decide to take to the sea to find better opportunities elsewhere. One of them is Suleiman, the lover of Ada, who is promised to another man but who loves Suleiman.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinematique of Daytona
Rating: NR

Bheeshma

(Blue Sky) Bishu Sengupta, Rashmika Mandanna, Nithin, Vennela Kishore. A young man who creates memes for a living is determined to remain a bachelor for the rest of his days, but fate seems to be conspiring against him.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Orlando
Rating: NR

BHOOT: Part One – The Haunted Ship

(ZEE) Vicky Kaushal, Bhumi Pednekar, Ashutosh Rana. A bereaved shipping officer must save a girl he believes to be real who has been appearing on a derelict ship – the Sea Bird – that is believed to be haunted. The first of two parts.

=See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

Brahms: The Boy II

(STX) Katie Holmes, Owain Yeoman, Christopher Convery, Ralph Ineson. When a family moves into a stately old home with a checkered past, their young son makes friends with a life-sized doll named Brahms.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for violence, terror, brief strong language and thematic elements)

The Lodge

(NEON) Riley Keough, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone, Jaeden Lieberher. A family vacations at a remote mountain cabin for the holidays but when the father is forced to return to work abruptly, he leaves his two children in the care of his new girlfriend. However, terrifying events powered by spectres from her dark past haunt the three of them as a blizzard traps them there.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for disturbing violence, some bloody images, language and brief nudity)

My Boyfriend’s Meds (Las píladoras de mi novio)

(Pantelion) Jaime Camil, Sandra Echévarria, Jason Alexander, Brooke Shields. A dream trip to a tropical paradise turns into a nightmare when her boyfriend accidentally leaves his prescription meds behind..

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Epic Theaters of Lee Vista, Regal The Loop
Rating: NR

The Night Clerk

(Saban) Ana de Armas, Helen Hunt, John Leguizamo, Tye Sheridan. A young, socially challenged night clerk at a hotel witnesses a murder in one of the rooms. However, his actions are deemed suspicious by the detective in charge who makes him the number one suspect.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Old Mill Playhouse
Rating: R (for language, some sexual references, brief nudity and violent images)

Olympic Dreams

(IFC) Nick Kroll, Alexi Pappas, Gus Kenworthy, Morgan Schild. A cross-country skier at the 2018 Winter Olympic games feels alone in a crowd in the Village. She links up with a volunteer dentist who is having relationship problems and maybe the spark of something is ignited. This was reviewed last week by Cinema365; you can follow the link to review by clicking on the movie’s name under “Scheduled To Be Reviewed” below.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater
Rating: PG-13 (for some language and sexual references)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

(NEON) Noémie Merlant, Adele Haenel, Laura Bajrami, Valeria Golino. A woman is commissioned to paint a portrait of a reluctant bride to send to a potential suitor in 18th century France. However, the painter who is there under the guise of being a companion (and paints her portrait by night) soon develops romantic feelings for her subject.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for some nudity and sexuality)

Standing Up, Falling Down

(SHOUT!) Billy Crystal, Ben Schwartz, Grace Gummer, Nathan Corddry. After his stand-up career fails to take off in Los Angeles, a man returns home to Long Island to regroup. Along the way he rekindles old relationships and strikes up a new one with an eccentric dermatologist who has regrets of his own.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Old Mill Playhouse
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Hai Tang Hong
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan
Swift

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Citizen K
Corpus Christi]
Hai Tang Hong
Hump!
India vs. England
Mafia: Chapter 1
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan
Those Who Remained
True Fiction
Varda by Agnes

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Impractical Jokers: The Movie
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Emerald Run
Impractical Jokers: The Movie
Mafia: Chapter 1
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Brahms: The Boy II
Call of the Wild
The Lodge
Olympic Dreams
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Standing Up, Falling Down

Pick of the Litter – December 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

(Disney) Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, John Boyega.  The saga of Star Wars comes to a final conclusion after 42 years following 12 movies along with untold animated episodes, television specials, novels and comic books. Director J.J. Abrams returns to the big chair to bring this all to a conclusion but fear not fans: a new trilogy will begin on December 16, 2022! December 20

OTHER WIDE RELEASES TO WATCH FOR:

Jumanji: The Next Level, December 13
Richard Jewell, December 13
Bombshell, December 20
Cats, December 20
1917, December 25
Little Women, December 25
Spies in Disguise, December 25

INDEPENDENT PICKS

A Million Little Pieces

(Momentum) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Odessa Young, Giovanni Ribisi. A young writer, having hit rock bottom with his alcohol and drug addictions, checks into rehab. Based on the memoirs of James Frey (which he later admitted were largely fictitious), this is the account of a man who resigned to death, found hope instead. December 6

The Aeronauts

(Amazon) Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Phoebe Fox. An intrepid balloonist and a pioneer meteorologist ascend in a hot-air balloon to do weather research, but the ascent turns into a fight for survivor as they climb to the upper reaches of the atmosphere. December 6

In Fabric

(A24) Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill. Who would have thought that the scariest movie of 2019 might just be this English film about a cursed dress? Check the trailer out…but not while you’re alone at night. December 6

Marriage Story

(Netflix) Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda.  After a brief theatrical run, this Noah Baumbach film hits the streaming giant. Already creating a good deal of Oscar buzz, this movie chronicles the end of a marriage and the beginning of life. December 6

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

(NEON) Noémie Merlant, Adéle Haenel, Luána Bajrami, Valeria Golino. A young female painter gets a commission to paint the portrait of a prospective bride on a remote island in Brittany. The girl is terrified of her potential marriage and doesn’t want the painting to be completed, so the painter must work in secret, posing as a companion, a companionship that soon becomes genuine…and romantic. December 6

A Hidden Life

(Fox Searchlight) August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Michael Nyqvist, Matthias Schoenaerts. The story of Franz Jägerstatter, an Austrian who refused to fight for the Nazis during the Second World War – and what his refusal cost him. December 13

Rabid

(SHOUT!) Laura Vandervoort, Ted Atherton, Mackenzie Gray, Stephen McHattie. A young woman, horribly disfigured in a terrible accident, undergoes a radical untested stem cell treatment. As it turns out, the treatment seems to have been successful but there are unforeseen side effects. December 13

Seberg

(Amazon) Kristen Stewart, Margaret Qualley, Zazie Beetz, Anthony Mackie. Actress Jean Seberg became a star of the French New Wave. Her support for civil rights activism brought the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. upon her and they set out to destroy her career and life. December 13

The Two Popes

The Two Popes

(Netflix) Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujin, Sidney Cole. Pope Benedict, a staunch conservative, is the leader of a Catholic church in crisis. He soon develops a relationship with the cardinal who would one day become Pope Francis, one who has sought to reform the Church. This is the latest from acclaimed director Fernando Meirelles, Oscar-nominated for City of God. December 20

The Song of Names

(Sony Classics) Tim Roth, Clive Owen, Jonah Hauer-King, Catherine McCormack. A Polish boy of Jewish faith is adopted by an English family and becomes an amazing violin player. On the eve of his international concert debut, he disappears. His adopted brother spends the rest of his life trying to find him. December 25