Portrait of a Lady on Fire Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Pros: actresses; interesting premise; camera work; musical accents Cons: the pace of the film is very, very leisurely Portrait de la jeune fille en feu

Drama genre
Directed by Celine Sciamma
Starring Noémie Merlant (Marianne), Adèle Haenel (Heloise), Luana Bajrami (Sophie), Valeria Golino (Heloise’s mother), etc.
Companies Lilies Films, Arte France Cinema, Hold Up Films
Year of release 2019 (in Ukraine 2020)
IMDb website

A talented artist Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives on the peninsula, where she expects to quickly complete her usual order. Marianne must move into the home of impoverished aristocrats and paint a portrait of a girl named Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). The task becomes somewhat more complicated when the artist finds out that Eloise does not intend to pose; moreover, she tries not to show her face, avoiding strangers.

At the Cannes Film Festival, the film “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” participated in the main competition, where the main prize went not to it, but to the Korean film “Parasite.” Only Quentin Tarantino can compete with the unpredictable tragicomedy of Bong Joon Ho (it’s not for nothing that they compete in the nominations of most prestigious awards), but Portrait of a Lady on Fire doesn’t need that at all.

This is a film for those who allow a leisurely unfolding of events, diluted with leisurely walks against the backdrop of cloudy seascapes. The beauty of such frames deserves special attention. For example, scenes shot in daylight at the base of cliffs resemble paintings. It seems that the heroine Marianne paints people on canvases, and the cameraman Claire Mathon does the same with film.


Director Celine Sciamma (who acted as a screenwriter for the cartoon My Life as a Courgette) does not rush things at all, initially leaving the plot unsaid and, as it may seem, mystical mystery. And then he gradually adds conversations in which the characters begin to reveal themselves.


Another award at the Cannes Film Festival (Portrait of a Lady on Fire also won the Queer Palm) gives a hint about the direction the plot will take. And if the first hour of the film still leaves a certain intrigue, then in the second half melodrama appears, which in some places evokes boredom and indicates a predictable ending.


Quite often, leisurely scenes in films are diluted with instrumental music, which instantly changes the mood of the film. Celine Sciamma prefers not to do this, leaving musical inserts exclusively for a few scenes that carry a certain meaning. She turns out to be right. Choral singing works especially well, instantly changing the mood in the frame.


There are no excesses not only in the musical accompaniment. The costume designers also adhere to minimalism, without distracting attention from the characters of the main characters. This also applies to filming props, which are reduced to the everyday minimum, and also emphasize the financial position of the aristocratic family.


It is worth noting the work of actresses Noemie Merlant and Adele Haenel, who harmoniously got used to the image of their heroines from the 18th century, without leaving a shadow of modernity in the frame. The characters in the film were not inspired by real-life personalities, so the artists had the freedom to create new characters, which in its own way stands out against the backdrop of numerous biopics and film adaptations of classic works.


“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a film with images of particular beauty. As for the plot, it develops so slowly and at times overly melodramatic that it can alienate the viewer.


a French film for those who are not in a hurry, do not judge anyone and appreciate beautiful shots.

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