Cannes Review: ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ is a Film of Incandescent, Shattering Beauty

Héloïse bursts into the frame with her shoulders to the camera. She wears a long dress; it billows gently as she walks outside her house in 18th century Brittany and then flaps furiously as the walk turns into a run, her gracious figure thrust toward the cliffs and the ocean rumbling below–until the run stops, and in the time that lasts a hairsbreadth she turns her head back to the camera, smiles. It is the first time the luminous face of Adéle Haenel graces the screen in Céline Sciamma’s devastatingly beautiful Portrait of a Lady on Fire. And in a movie in which turning your head to look back acquires accrues a deeper, tragic meaning, it is a character-defining scene that thrums with the same spell-binding beauty of Denis Lavant’s last dance in Claire Denis’ Beau Travail.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a film of incandescent scenes and staggering wonder.

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