Portrait of a Lady on Fire, one of 2019’s very best movies, will become the newest addition to the prestigious Criterion Collection library next year. This will mark the first Criterion entry for up-and-coming distributor Neon, which has only been operating since 2017.
You can read more about the inclusion of director Céline Sciamma‘s film in this distinguished group, and find out when you can see it for yourselves below.
There’s a chance some of you may not be familiar with this film yet. If that’s the case, allow me to introduce you to a brief trailer:
Here’s the official synopsis:
Set in France, 1760, Marianne is commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse, a young woman who has just left the convent. Because she is a reluctant bride-to-be, Marianne arrives under the guise of companionship, observing Héloïse by day and secretly painting her by firelight at night. As the two women orbit one another, intimacy and attraction grow as they share Héloïse’s first moments of freedom. Héloïse’s portrait soon becomes a collaborative act of and testament to their love.
Peter Becker, President of The Criterion Collection remarked, “Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire took our breath away when we first saw it at Telluride, and we are ecstatic that we will be able to give the film the loving special edition treatment it deserves.” NEON added, “We couldn’t be more thrilled that our first collaboration with The Criterion Collection is Céline’s breathtakingly beautiful and utterly captivating Portrait of a Lady on Fire.”
Sciamma’s beautiful, heart-rending love story won the Best Screenplay Award and the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and burrowed its way into my soul from the first time I saw it. It’s an astounding piece of work: sensual, intoxicating, and masterfully crafted. The performances from lead actresses Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are absolutely top notch: Merlant plays the painter and spends the first half of the movie subtly observing Haenel with the intensity of a hawk, while Haenel wonderfully conveys the sense of being trapped against her will in a societal structure from which she can’t escape. That trailer calls this movie “cinema’s greatest love story,” which is an extremely bold claim, but I’d make the case that it absolutely deserves to be in the conversation. I could talk about this film all day, and I’ll definitely be writing more about it in our end of the year and end of the decade coverage at /Film. I can’t wait to check out the Criterion version of it.
It’s almost unfair that Neon released both Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire in the same year. Parasite (an amazing movie, to be clear) is dominating the conversation about the best international movie of the year, but in any other year, I feel like Portrait (a totally different type of story) would be the clear frontrunner. In any case, both are absolutely worth your time, and if you happen to live in Los Angeles or New York City, you don’t have to wait for the Criterion release: you can see it in limited theaters right now for a one-week engagement. The rest of the country will be able to check it out when it opens everywhere on February 14, 2020.
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