11 comments on “Portrait of a Lady on Fire

    • Fhara, you don’t need the word “most” in that sentence. You can just say, “This is one of the stupidest reviews, I have ever read”.

      Would you care to elaborate on what makes this review “stupid”, as it details my opinions and experience viewing the film quite clearly.
      We can certainly agree to disagree on the film itself, but I am curious as to why my piece of journalism is “stupid” ?

      Thanks for checking out Texas Art & Film.

  • An amazing review that stands out in Rotten Tomatoes for its ignorance. This makes your publication look a little sad. To be charitable, maybe the theatre’s walkie-talkie threw you off and distracted you too much.

    • Thanks for stopping by, really appreciate your thorough and detailed comment on the review. You really articulated the difference between your viewing experience, thoughts and discourse compared to mine.

  • I want to take your review in good faith, especially considering the fact that you’ve made an effort to reply even to the more derogatory comments which is laudable. But I can’t help but thinking that the purpose of this review is merely to be contrarian. I say this not because I think there could be no reasonable criticism levied towards this film ( even if I can’t think of any , having liked the film a great deal.) but because the argument which you are making can be reduced to, slow movies are bad. And if that is the case fair enough but for someone writing for publication which focuses on ArtFilm this seems to me an altogether too preclusive position to take. Because if this argument is applied to cinema in general you’re effectively saying that Bergman , Tarkovsky, Antonioni, Bela Tarr, Eric Rohmer, Bresson, Ozu, etc are bad filmmakers. Is this your position?
    Another problem I have with the Review is its word count and how the little space that it does take up is wasted ( although to be fair to you I am not in the know in regard to how much of this due to editorial constraints). You spend half of the review recapping the plot. The second half introduces a few points of criticism but doesn’t really go into detail explaining them. You come up with multiple colorful ways to say it’s boring without really explaining why it’s boring. The explanation that you do give is, there is little dialog and few set pieces. Again are you saying that is bad in general? Because if not I would like to know specifically why it doesn’t work for you in this film. I for my part think that this reduction to three set pieces and repeating outfits ( en concernant the clothes the director has remarked that this is not high aristocracy but more or less middle class country gentry take that as you will I personally don’t find that all too plausible but I didn’t need an explanation for the dresses so whatever ) gives the film an ( excuse the overused word my English is a tiny bit rusty) an ethereal quality. Makes the whole situation seem unreal or maybe a better word would be untethered. I think the cinematography, mise en scène and choice of location bolster my point. First take a look at at how light is shot. Diffuse, dreamlike soft, that quality of light that one sometimes has early in the morning. By day most if not all of the Interiors are shot in this way. By night we are treated to rooms lit with some of the most atmospheric fire lighting I have ever seen in a film. You might say well that’s just because natural oldtimey light from a furnace or candles looks better which is part of it but really take a look at other period pieces that use candles and fire places. In most of them the light is a facet of the room. In Portrait the light envelopes the entire scene noticeably. When they are playing cards you see it changing flickering across their faces. If this sounds a bit esoteric excuse me, I find it hard to do it justice with out seeing the film a second time and anyway it is the nature of arresting images that they are not exactly easy to put into words. So I would move on to my next point the mise en scene specifically how the rooms are decorated and put into scene. They are bare, impossibly so almost. I would say this is very much intentional and contributes to the sense of being in a non place, unstuck in time , a utopia if you will ( if my mad men memory serves me correctly the word has the double meaning of the good place and the place which cannot be). The same can be said of the outdoor locations. Not a sign of civilization not a town not a church ( although we hear about one). The ocean, the beach, and rocky flat landscape. To me all of this not only created a sense of unreality which is very interesting in the context of a historical reading, but more immediately serves to encapsulate the viewer inside of this world of female intimacy ( In all the senses of the word.) I feel I it brings me closer to what these characters are feeling for each other. The world becomes reduced to the the essential. What’s more one might argue that it symbolizes their psychological state as it relates to how their actions would be judged by the world. They do not rebel against the order of the world, no they simply choose not to think of it to dream it away to forget and be completely in their world.
    In terms of call me by your name I would agree that there is a fair bit of thematic overlap but I can’t agree that the endings are at all similar ? Because they both end on a close up of someone listening to music ? But they’re saying radically different things. First off the perspective in call me by your name is not a POV shot. It’s meant simply to illustrate Elios feelings several months later about the this relationship having ended and being impossible and because he feels that Oliver has trapped himself. Coming of age etc. The image of Heloïse( the analog to Oliver) is shot from Sofies point of view so it is not only a reversal of which person we get to see ( in cmbyn we get to see the character who gets to relatively speaking retain their freedom, in Portrait we see the trapped) but also a multivalent image. We are not only seeing someone we are seeing someone being seen. Being seen by a person who cares a great deal for her and who has spent a good amount of their shared time looking at her. I think about what that means. To be seen.
    What’s more we can assume that they did not interact after the opera ( because Sofies Voice over says I saw her one last time and makes no mention of an interaction). Why did she not speak to her? It’s not as if it would have been impossible or untoward.
    There is another point of agreement between us. Us say this films jokes or overture feel like another movies action sequences. I agree. And isn’t that marvelous ? To reveal to us how extraordinarily dramatic and moving something that we for lack of looking might have called boring quotidian , lackluster can be when looked at from the right perspective.
    I would ask you Mr Chase to examine your reaction to this film. Maybe you will find that you are guilty of this lack of looking.
    Kind Regards

    • I certainly don’t think “slow films” are bad just because they are slow. Not at all, a quick look at films I have reviewed you will find films with specific/deliberate pacing like There Will Be Blood, Call Me By Your Name, The Revenant, Carol, Bridges of Madison County, and last year’s ROMA were films I cherished and gave the highest grades to!

      I will admit that the classic directors you mentioned I have seen little of the work, tried, and either couldn’t connect or knew it without purpose because in my film studies, I always hated films beyond 1980’s, I even wrote an entire thesis on how television changed attention span for children born in the 1980’s in such a degree that most cannot appreciate in all honesty classic films where editing was severely limited.

      I got into film in 1997 when I saw Contact for the first time… it was the first film that I wanted more from and had no one in my family to discuss why I needed more from that film, why is spoke to me, why I needed to see it again. That led me to writing down my feelings, thoughts, and questions about the film, which spawned the idea of film criticism, not as much because of my love of film (more storytelling) but my need to get something from cinema.

      I write for a few different outlets, all with the assumption the reviews must be about one page length. That’s one paragraph for introduction (since that’s typically all people read), second paragraph for quick summery, third and fourth to dive into specific elements of awards potential, cinematic value, technical elements, etc.

      Your explanation of light usage in the film is compelling, accurate, but that doesn’t help raise the audience interest in the film as a whole. I guess one of the elements I seek in reviewing film is, “can I sit anyone in front of this movie and they will enjoy it”. Portrait of a Lady on Fire tested every fiber of my patience. I will admit, seeing it at a film festival when you are tired, uncomfortable seats, and knowing there are so many other exciting films around, didn’t aid my excitement for the movie. However, Evan France realized this and choose a different movie because Portrait is not an easily accessible picture.

      My point in comparing to CMBYN, is that if I were a filmmaker, and I had made an LGBT love story, very shortly after a highly successful one was recently nominated for best picture, and my ending was even slightly similar, I can’t imagine not trying to alter it. Of course it’s saying something different, but the way it’s presented just begs to be compared because of the subject matter.

      I am sure I am guilty of lack of looking as you say, however, I review 200 films a year, 30 films at TIFF in a 9 day span, but Portrait just never grabbed me, I was ready to be done with the film very early (however I never walk out of films) because it wasn’t saying anything to me, it wasn’t speaking anything to me, I didn’t find it interesting, appealing, entertaining or valuable in anyway. I am thrilled others find it so, that’s the wonderful thing about cinema, there is something for everyone, and even the biggest movie failure can be a life changer to someone else. I am nothing if I can’t be honest in my reviews, because they are “my reviews”, simply my opinions. I can’t give Portrait a good or decent review because of how you or others saw/interpreted/responded to the film. And it’s also truly possible there is a cultural disconnect between Céline Sciamma’s work, or more classical French cinema, and my American eye, or what I am looking for in an A Grade film. I do know that my experience with Portrait was such that I never want to revisit that film again. I do re-watch B, B+ and of course A/A- grades I give before end of year voting and top 10 ranking.

      Thank you for your wonderful insights and reaching out. Have a wonderful day.

      • Thank you very much for taking the time out of your day, to answer my admittedly overlong critique. This exchange has engenderd a good amount of sympathy in me towards the possiblity of online interaction especially where criticism is concernd. Thank you also for explaining to me the circumstances under which you saw the film ( twenty reviews in nine days seem very taxing to me and I dont envy your position, how could one do everything justice under those circumstances). I came to this review because I like to read dissenting opinions on films that I like very much especially when they are such critical darlings. One last thing I would want to add is that I am very impressed with your honesty about those old classic film directors, others might have tried to talk themselves in circles just to avoid the appearence of not liking what one has to like. This honesty alone has won you a hertofore faithfull reader. I can very much understand the feeling of not being able to connect to these films. It took a concerted effort on my part until I could really enjoy them with out caveats. I think it was an effort which payed off but am also aware that not everyone has the luxury of time in the way a twentysomething student like myself has. I hope I was not unduly harsh with my words and wish you a wonderful day.
        Kind Regards

        • I look forward to much more interactions with you. I view even the hate mail I get as a good thing, means someone took time out of their day to notice me, even it it was simply they were offended by what I wrote. I like interacting with people about film and will never turn down an option to do so. Have a wonderful day, and feel free to follow me on Twitter @TexasArtFilm.

  • I would not have taken offense with your piece, Dustin, had I read it in the Amazon customer review section of the film’s DVD. Presented here as film criticism, however, I refuse to view it as such, and I’ll tell you why, via quotes from your piece: “Portrait opens with some of the most beautiful cinematography”––Well, what do we see? What makes the cinematography beautiful? What makes the lighting, as you write in the following sentence, “captivating”? How is the film lit, how is it shot? How does that fit (or does it fit?) the narrative? “Instead of dialogue, there is silence,” you write. “Little movement, just characters staring at one another.” Well, what could be the meaning of silence here? The absence of music? The heightened awareness of incidental sounds? Why is “staring” important? What kind of staring is it, and is it important that the film depicts women staring at each other (in a film directed and shot by a woman)? What is the connection between staring and painting (and filmmaking)? I could do this for every paragraph––I won’t––to give an impression of what I mean when I lament a lack of intelligent engagement in your review of the film. Merely making claims with lots of adjectives (“beautiful,” “boring,” “beautifully boring”) without further elaboration or consideration of the underlying cinematic techniques and their effect––and, ultimately, a judgment of their appropriateness with regards to the overall narrative––is lazy writing.

    Since you mention the great acclaim the film has received and since your take wildly differs from its overall reception, you should have reflected on this disparity. Assuming your text is not just clickbait-contrarianism, you should have thought more deeply––or, really, at all––about why your viewing experience was so different. Maybe the film does require a second viewing for you. Maybe you’ll appreciate it this time around. (In any case, only revisiting films you already considered good, seems a little complacent to me.)

    While others, like fellow commentator Jean-Michel, might find your openness about your disinterest in the cinematic canon admirable, I find it frustrating. As a film critic, it is your job to be interested. It’s not your job to like canonized filmmakers, it’s not your job to agree with the acclaim they have received, but it is your job to know them and to have developed informed opinions on them, or, at the very least, it is your job to make an effort to do so. And “informed” is the key word: Everyone can have an opinion. Having an opinion is not criticism. Making an argument for an informed opinion, that’s criticism.

    • Perhaps it was lazy writing, although ‘Portrait’ was only six films in of 33 at TIFF’s 9 day span. However it ultimately comes down to the simple fact that I was so bored by the film, dis-engaged by its choice of pacing/editing that watching it again would be pure torture. When cinema pushes me that far away, and I give that low of grade, no amount of re-watching, studying, research is going to change that. It would be the equivalent of someone going on at length of the value, beauty and benefits of eating mushrooms, their varying types, flavors, partnerships with other foods and dishes…. but I hate mushrooms, can’t stand the sight, smell, taste or consistency. So none of that would do any good.

      I have received both “thank you for your review” on ‘Portrait’ and those similar to yours that seem so deeply offended by one single critic saying something different. My job is to see the film, pay to fly to Canada out of my pocket, choose the films I need to review, and get myself there, take notes, and then write the review and publish it… So I don’t know how much more “interest” you expect me to have for the 200+ films/reviews I write each year coupled with discussing them on podcasts and on my radio show? I think my “interest” in filmS is far beyond the average person, or even the average film critic.

      Thanks for visiting TAF, have a wonderful weekend.

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