Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Rated Greg’s Top 5 Love Stories

  1. Clarence and Alabama – True Romance
  2. Marianne and Heloise – Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  3. Jerry and Dorothy – Jerry Maguire
  4. Romeo and Juliet – Romeo and Juliet (1996)
  5. Sebastian and Annette – Cruel Intentions

Last month at various get-togethers (which seems like over a year ago now), friends would ask me what I thought of Parasite winning Best Picture at the Oscars.  I responded with mixed feelings.  On one hand I was admittedly rooting for 1917 during the telecast, not because I thought 1917 was the better movie but because I had a small wager on it.  There was no way the Academy voters would pick a foreign language class thriller over an immaculately choreographed war epic, right? Or so I thought.  On the other hand when Parasite pulled off the upset, part of me was glad despite the result reducing my net worth by a whole $20 bill.  This was a deserving, exciting, and quite simply an interesting choice compared to the rather blandness of most of the winners this century (looking at you Argo, looking at you Green Book, don’t even get me started King’s Speech). 

Perhaps Parasite’s win signals a shift in the taste of the Academy.  Or perhaps it’ll turn out to be just an anomaly.  Let’s not forget that after Moonlight won Best Picture in 2016, the Academy gave 2017’s top award to The Shape of Water, which is….oh I don’t know….JUST ONE OF THE WORST MOVIES OF ALL TIME.  I’m guessing Parasite will leave a larger footprint on the culture than other recent winners, but only time will tell if the future Best Pictures of the 2020’s will be as widely regarded across all fans of cinema as the South Korean powerhouse.

But here’s the thing about Parasite.  While it’s a really good movie, and again a more than fine choice out of the nominated pool, it actually wasn’t even the best foreign language film released last year, let alone best film.  No, that distinction goes to Portrait of a Lady on Fire.  HOLY SHIT.  Portrait of a Lady on Fire.  ONE MORE TIME.  Portrait of a Lady on Fire!  Rarely would I ever proclaim a movie as perfect, but fuck it, life’s short and this French masterpiece is downright flawless. 

Is it possible for someone who’s favorite movie is Bad Boys to also worship a quiet film about two 18th century women who fall in love?   A film with no guns?  No mystery to be solved? Less than five lines of dialogue even spoken by a male character in the entire 120 minutes?   And it’s FRENCH, no less?  Prior to Sunday night I might have said no, but that was a lifetime ago. 

Before I continue, let’s take a moment to look back on other famous movie paintings…

Ok back to our regularly scheduled program

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is unlike any of the romances you’ve grown accustomed to.  Typical love story beats like meet-cute’s and grand gestures are thrown to the wayside and what’s left is an extremely real experience.  There’s purposely not even any music in the film until just before the credits.  According to director Celine Sciamma, any semblance of a score was absent because she wanted the audience to be solely focused on the rhythm and movements of the movie, a relationship between bodies and camera that can be interpreted as it’s own form of music.  It was an excellent choice to make it this way, for the chemistry between the two leads is undeniably captivating and you don’t need strings in the background to tell you so.  

Now, you might be wondering, if Portrait of a Lady on Fire is SOOOO great (insert eye roll emoji), then why wasn’t it recognized at the Oscars alongside the likes of Parasite if it technically came out last year?  Well, the answer is simple.  The Academy only allows non-English speaking countries to submit ONE feature film per year for awards consideration (dumb rule, I know).  And the French, inexplicably, decided to submit yet another iteration of Les Miserables, thinking that it was more likely to appeal to Academy voters than the queer, quiet Portrait.  They made this decision despite Portrait’s reportedly raucous reception at the Cannes Festival premiere and will have to live with it for the rest of their lives.

I could go on and on about the merits of Portrait of a Lady on Fire but you’re better off just checking it out for yourself. Don’t read anything else, don’t listen to anything else, and most importantly don’t be like France.  Reward and appreciate one of the best love stories of all time.  It’s now streaming for free on Hulu* and something tells me you have a lot of free time on your hands.  Grade: A+**

*Shoutout to Neon, who acquired the theatrical rights to Portrait and allowed Hulu to push up the release on its service several weeks in the wake of the pandemic.  This is before Neon is even able to make the film available on demand.

**For the purposes of Rated Greg’s annual rankings, Portrait of a Lady on Fire will be considered a 2020 film given that it was not released wide to American theaters until Valentines Day 2020, having been in only two theaters across the country before then. 

One comment

  1. samjoseph77 · March 30, 2020

    Nice. I think I have Hulu. I’ll find the time.

    Sent from a tiny keyboard



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