Set in 18th-century Brittany, Portrait of a Lady on Fire follows Marianne (Noémie Merlant), an artist commissioned by an Italian noblewoman (Valeria Golino) to paint a portrait of her reclusive daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), who is soon to be married. The peculiar conditions of this assignment, however, require that Marianne never announce to Héloïse the objective of her visit.
Instead, Marianne is to escort Héloïse on walks, posing as a hired companion while closely observing her subject so as to render her likeness on canvas in secret.
Though nothing much happens, the film includes scenes of exquisite beauty courtesy of the cinematographer Claire Mathon who did STRANGER BYTHE LAKE back in 2013. The shot of the facial expressions of the three women playing cards and the one with the household breaking into a chorus of song are incredibly moving.
It takes 3/4 of the film before the two women embrace, and the segments are executed with grace and erotic taste.