I can't remember a more memorable character introduction than that of Héloïse in the "Portrait of a Lady on Fire."
The setup is introduced In the first 10 minutes of the film. Marianne is hired to paint Héloïse prior to her arranged marriage. However, Héloïse will not pose for any painter because she doesn't want to be married. Héloïse's mother asked Marianne to act as a walking companion during the day and while painting at night.
After the first day in the lavish home, Marianne meets with Héloïse for their first walk together. Héloïse is wearing a cloak that fully covers her body save for the skin of her hands. Without saying a word, Héloïse begins to walk out the door, moving so quickly that her hood drops, revealing her beautiful blonde hair.
As the women move closer to the sea, Héloïse begins sprinting toward the edge of a cliff, forcing Marianne to run to her. Héloïse stops herself short of plunging off, then turns to stare at Marianne.
This type of dynamic character development is what makes "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" a masterpiece.
Céline Sciamma's 2019 French film was left out of the Oscars discussion last year due to the country nominating "Les Misérables" for Best Foreign Film.
However, this film has garnered critical acclaim from all over the world. The film won the Queer Palm at Cannes, the first time a film directed by a woman has won the award.
Sciamma's 18th century forbidden love affair feels like nothing I've ever seen before. With no score to force emotions, "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" uses ambient noise to set it's tone. A creaky floorboard, the crackling of a fire or the irregular breathing of the main characters gives this film a sensational mood.
Noémie Merlant (Marianne) and Adèle Haenel (Héloïse) are incredibly sincere in this film. Whenever Marianne and Héloïse look at each other, it stirs an intensity between the two that makes you want to scream at the screen for them to be together.
The pairing often reminded me the main characters of "Brokeback Mountain." Just like Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, the women in "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" fall for each other quickly but realize they can't be together.
Merlant and Haenel are not stars in the making because they've already arrived. I look forward to seeing every film they're in after this.
There's not a moment of checking your watch to see when it will be done, nor a lapse in the story that should've been cut. Every shot feels sincere. Every look carries an emotional punch that could never be expressed through dialogue. Every part of this film feels needed.
"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" could make the most pessimistic person believe in love again.
Matthew Lambert has written for RiverTown Multimedia for almost three years. Prior to joining the company, Lambert graduated from Winona State University with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communication: Journalism and a minor in Film Studies. Lambert will try any film once, but if he had his choice a Martin Scorsese or Paul Thomas Anderson film would be his choice.