What to know

critics consensus

A singularly rich period piece, Portrait of a Lady on Fire finds stirring, thought-provoking drama within a powerfully acted romance. Read critic reviews

Where to watch

Rate And Review

User image

Verified

  • User image

    Super Reviewer

    Rate this movie

    Oof, that was Rotten.

    Meh, it passed the time.

    It’s good – I’d recommend it.

    Awesome!

    So Fresh: Absolute Must See!

    What did you think of the movie? (optional)



  • You're almost there! Just confirm how you got your ticket.

  • User image

    Super Reviewer

    Step 2 of 2

    How did you buy your ticket?

    Let's get your review verified.

    • Fandango

    • AMCTheatres.com or AMC AppNew

    • Cinemark Coming Soon

      We won’t be able to verify your ticket today, but it’s great to know for the future.

    • Regal Coming Soon

      We won’t be able to verify your ticket today, but it’s great to know for the future.

    • Theater box office or somewhere else

    You're almost there! Just confirm how you got your ticket.

  • User image

    Super Reviewer

    Rate this movie

    Oof, that was Rotten.

    Meh, it passed the time.

    It’s good – I’d recommend it.

    Awesome!

    So Fresh: Absolute Must See!

    What did you think of the movie? (optional)

  • How did you buy your ticket?

    • Fandango

    • AMCTheatres.com or AMC AppNew

    • Cinemark Coming Soon

      We won’t be able to verify your ticket today, but it’s great to know for the future.

    • Regal Coming Soon

      We won’t be able to verify your ticket today, but it’s great to know for the future.

    • Theater box office or somewhere else

Portrait of a Lady on Fire Videos

Portrait of a Lady on Fire Photos

Movie Info

In 1770 the young daughter of a French countess develops a mutual attraction to the female artist commissioned to paint her wedding portrait.

Cast & Crew

Noémie Merlant
Marianne
Adèle Haenel
Héloïse
Luàna Bajrami
Sophie
Christel Baras
La faiseuse d'anges
Guy Delamarche
L'homme salon
Michèle Clément
Peasant
Céline Sciamma
Screenwriter
Bénédicte Couvreur
Producer
Claire Mathon
Cinematographer
Julien Lacheray
Film Editor
Arthur Simonini
Original Music
Thomas Grézaud
Production Design
Dorothée Guiraud
Costume Designer
Show all Cast & Crew

News & Interviews for Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Critic Reviews for Portrait of a Lady on Fire

All Critics (314) | Top Critics (77) | Fresh (307) | Rotten (7)

Audience Reviews for Portrait of a Lady on Fire

  • Oct 13, 2020
    Minimalist (yet gorgeous) lighting and aesthetics aside, the skilful storytelling kept the suspense taut like a thriller for the first half of the movie until I began to feel for the characters.
    Letitia L Super Reviewer
  • Mar 12, 2020
    The movie simmers with a slow intensity with a back drop of gorgeous scenery. Both women are very expressive yet mysterious. (3-7-20).
    John C Super Reviewer
  • Jan 25, 2020
    As time marches on, fewer and fewer of us remember what life was like before the internet. Those of us who were around back then can attest to the fact that American life was quite a bit more slow-paced. There was still media bombardment, in albeit a subtler way, but one could avoid cultural desensitization and the resultant ennui much more easily if they wished. I suppose one of the biggest differences was that people were naturally a little more physically active and could concentrate for longer amounts of time. Experiences seemed to mean more because every moment and accomplishment wasn't immediately set in the context of a global existence. Maybe it was a little more solipsistic or maybe just unfettered by the full scope of reality. Myopic and fractured as the current socio-political, cultural, or spiritual experience can be today, the Information Age blasted an LED spotlight on every secret garden or Walden and made sure there was a trash can and toilet to accommodate all of the unsanctimonious tourists disrupting the quietude with their camera apps unmuted, and so it seems there aren't so many sacred spaces left to hide in anymore. Perhaps that's why we watch, say, a French period-set romance film like PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE. Something deep in our individual DNA or collective subconscious knows that stillness is good for us. I remember a time long ago when I admonished a friend of mine for excitedly telling me he was going to see the latest TRANSFORMERS flick, he responded by telling me a refrain we've all heard many times before: "I work hard all day, my life is in shambles, and please...for once, FOR ONCE can I PLEASE just go out for a nice night at the movies, buy some popcorn and a coke, and just...shut my brain off? If I could turn back time and ask him some loaded rhetorical questions in response, they would be: Do you practice zen meditation at a D'n'B rave? Do you smoke PCP during a poker match? Do you blow up your house while gardening? As P-Funk used to say, "If you don't like the effects, don't produce the cause." Just take a minute if you have it to imagine the world before television, films, automobiles, and phones. It must have been incredibly boring by you or I's standards, but if humans are exceedingly talented at anything it would be in finding ways to keep ourselves amused. We would probably play card games, make a hallucinogenic poultice, sing, master painting, or fall in love with a member of our own gender. Now just imagine if you were a woman, considered property or soon-to-be property, with absolutely no rights except those afforded by your social status. Imagine how boring life would be, subject to the whims and wills of men who live a city, a country, or a world away from you. Sounds like a decent starting point for a sensuous, existential narrative fiction analysis of the female psyche that transcends ideological bounds and probes the deepest recesses of emotion and aesthetics. It seems so easy to romanticize or fetishize PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE not just because it fits the bill of a meditative work with all of the necessary components needed to wow an audience at Cannes, but because it is a terribly romantic work that fetishizes its own period production, actresses, and philosophical weight. I couldn't and wouldn't look away from the stark, perfectly framed/lit/acted/coded shots of actresses Noémie Merlant (Marianne) and Adèle Haenel (Héloïse) for a second, pathetically wishing I could watch their world far past the film's run time. It seems easy to cynically call the movie another idyllic trip through a progressive past that never occurred, but who need's that noise? I've been fortunate enought to find a small crack in reality where divine light shines through and blights my face with cold excitement. This movie is a portal into a world where books, paintings, modest baroque architecture, and the unstoppable forces of nature converge to give you that stillness that you lack in your day to day life. Marianne and Héloïse, for a brief moment, exist in a microcosm of divine feminine magic where they make the rules and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Yes, they bicker; yes, time is running out for them; yes, life laps them in bounds as they seek meaning and try to latch onto something they don't even know exists yet. This is the horrific beauty of cinematic truth - that the objects, the people, the essences, and the hopes that we fixate upon become ourselves in the quiet course of tragedy. If we weren't guarded by the manic principles of nihilism, we would be overwhelmed with feeling anytime we heard a song. Not in some brobdignagian, nuclear explosion of thought, word, and deed, but in this stillness that our species has forgotten. In the dark flourescent light of you computer screen or phone, open your vocal chords and break the silence of your aching soul, then listen to the beautiful, joyful hush that follows it.
    Steve L Super Reviewer
  • Dec 27, 2019
    Set in 1760 on a remote island, Marianne (Noemie Merlant) is commissioned to paint the portrait of Heloise (Adele Haenel) for the purpose of snagging her a husband. Heloise had been planning to become a nun but her family pulled her from the convent once she became their only living daughter, a.k.a. hope for the family to secure prosperity through marriage. Marianne must hide her true intentions and grow close to her subject, memorizing her face enough to paint it in secret. An intimacy builds between the two women that will change both of their lives even long after the fateful painting is finished (spoilers?). Writer/director Celine Sciamma has primarily worked with contemporary stories (Girlhood, Tomboy, Water Lilies) but, in stepping back in time, she has tapped into something elementally beautiful and poignant. It is very much a slow-burn of a movie but, in essence, that is the most relatable form of love, a feeling that builds, transforms, and can eventually consume. There's a liberation for the characters in the time they share together, first as companions and then as lovers. This is a transitory time, one locked in isolation and free from men, though the presence of the patriarchy is unavoidable as it limits their life choices. For Heloise, she had no desire to become someone's wife and then it was no longer her choice. Her greatest value lies in marriage, and a portrait during this era was essentially someone's dating profile picture. It's on Marianne to paint an accurate depiction that can ensnare this woman a husband, which gets even more complicated when Marianne falls for her. The movie tenderly moves along with guarded caution, as two women explore their feelings for one another in a time that didn't care about their feelings. This is a love story that feels alive but also realistic in how it forms and develops. It's about halfway through the movie before the ladies finally make their intentions known. I can understand why this might be too slow for many viewers but the movie never came across as dull for me, and it's because I was so drawn into this world, these characters, and their yearnings being unleashed. When it comes to movies exemplifying the difference in the female gaze, allow Portrait of a Lady on Fire to be one of the prime examples. This is miles away from the crass objectification featured in the likes of Michael Bay's oeuvre and his very explicit definition of sexy. This is a movie where the only nudity casually happens after the sex (and body hair isn't a big deal). There's more ASMR action for the senses (lots of loud lip-smacking sound design) than ogling naked bodies. The emphasis isn't on the contours of lithe feminine forms but more on the emotional and physical impact of a person as a whole. There's one scene that is tremendously affecting and quite sexy, and it begins with the painter telling her subject every small physical response she has studied while painting her. It's little observations that are romantically relayed. The subject then turns around and says, "Who do you think I've been looking at as I've posed for hours?" and proceeds to unfurl her own richly earned romantic observations about her painter's physical responses. It's such a wonderful scene bristling with palpable sexual tension and infatuation, so much more being said in glances than in declarative speeches. The movie also opens up a larger discussion of the male gaze as it pertains to the world of art. They must play into the established conventions driven by a rigid patriarchy designating how women are best represented in media, and the implications to modern cinematic portraits are clearly felt. Funny enough, Heloise is chastised for not smiling enough in her portraits to woo a worthwhile suitor. I assumed this love story wasn't going to have a happy ending given the confines of its era, but I want every reader to know that Portrait of a Lady on Fire just absolutely crushes its ending. You may expect it coming, in a general sense, but the resolution to this love story floored me. There are two consecutive scenes that each elicit different emotions. The first is a winsome feeling of being remembered, of having a sense of permanence after the fact, of a moment in time that will long be fondly recalled and celebrated for its fleeting perfection and lifelong significance. Then the next scene involves a payoff of great empathy that almost brought tears to my eyes. It delivers a long-desired payoff to a character's lifelong request, and the camera simply holds for over a minute while we watch the indescribable impression this woman is experiencing. It's so joyous, so heartfelt, and so luxuriously earned that I felt like my heart was going to burst. The fact that both of these emotional conclusions happen without a single word being uttered is even more impressive. The acting from the leads is phenomenal and the nuances they navigate are so precise and subtle. This isn't a movie about grand gestures and big dialogue exchanges. It's a romance in that genteel fashion of furtive movements and words encased in subtext. We've seen this kind of restrained love story before in other period pieces, as well as gay cinema with its socially forbidden love. The intimacy between these two women must start slow and, like a fire, be given the right amount of oxygen to allow it to spread. There's an understandable bitterness that this love will not be allowed but this cannot abate the desire to proceed anyway. These women are more than just tragic figures coming into one another's orbit. They're fleshed-out and multi-dimensional characters with their own goals and imperfections. They feel like real people, and while disappointed by their limitations within a patriarchy, they will continue to pursue their personal dreams. The portrayal is so empathetic that your heart can't help but ache when it isn't swooning from the sumptuously understated romance of it all. An intimately felt and intimately developed forbidden love that feels natural, nuanced, and enormously engaging. It reminds us that movies only need compelling characters or a compelling scenario to grab us good. I'm fairly certain Bay's music licensing budget was more than this French indie. Portrait of a Lady on Fire isn't a revolutionary movie. We've seen variations on this story before, but what makes it unmissable is the degree of feeling and artistry crammed into every breathable moment. I know there's an ample audience that will enjoy 6 Underground, especially with its wider availability, and that's fine. Netflix paid a pretty penny betting there are enough people looking for the film equivalent of a drunken, disheveled one-night stand. If you're looking for something more authentic, deeply felt, and, let's face it, generous to women, then look for Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a beautiful indie romance that warmed my heart, broke it, and then fastened it back together. Nate's Grade: A
    Nate Z Super Reviewer

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

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

Movie & TV guides