Skip to main content
film review

Noémie Merlant, left, and Adèle Haenel in a scene from Portrait of a Lady on Fire.Neon

  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  • Written and directed by Céline Sciamma
  • Starring Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel
  • Classification: R
  • 121 minutes


4 out of 4 stars

Passionate, elegant and devastatingly romantic, Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire earns every right to slowly burn itself into your mind and heart. In 18th-century Brittany, artist Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to paint the portrait of an Italian noblewoman’s reclusive daughter, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel, from Sciamma’s Water Lilies).

Héloïse has so far rejected all artists who have come before her, in the hopes that her painted image cannot be sent abroad to potential male suitors, and Marianne enters her life in the guise of a mere hired companion. Soon enough – but with a deliberately cautious speed that suggests Sciamma’s narrative philosophy holds patience as a prime virtue – the pair disarm each other, and form a bond intimate and profound.

Your weekend movie guide: Romance abounds with Portrait of a Lady on Fire and The Photograph. And then there’s Sonic the Hedgehog

Young artist Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adéle Haenel) without her knowing.Neon

Sharply subverting the male gaze at every turn, Sciamma has created an unforgettable treatise on thwarted desire. It is so very easy to label a film incendiary, but Portrait of a Lady on Fire deserves the scalding honour. It will ignite every flame you might have.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire opens Feb. 14 in Toronto and Vancouver