Kind of like why I did my review of Just Mercy, PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE came out in theaters early February, right before the pandemic hit. Normally I only do reviews of new stuff that comes out the year it comes out to form best of and worst of lists. Technically, Portrait is a 2019 film because it was eligible for the Academy Awards because it came out in NY and LA in December. It didn’t receive any nominations, and so I skipped it in theaters and just recently watched it on Hulu. And again, since it’s release date is blurry combined with content released in 2020 to review running out and COVID-19, I thought I would just count it as 2020 film. But just like there were reasons for Just Mercy to not quite make it on my best of list so far, heck this wouldn’t have made it on my 2019 one either, Portrait OF A Lady On Fire just missed the mark because of the movie not ending one scene earlier, what they did with the beginning, and a plot element that seemed to be taken straight from Dirty Dancing, the same plot element that didn’t make me care for that film all that much either (I’ll tell you exactly what it is later). Other than that, it is a beautiful and sweet film about love between two women in France in the late 18th century.
It the story of a forbidden affair between an aristocrat and a painter commissioned to paint her portrait. The last dude was fed up with the aristocrat woman because she wouldn’t ever pose for him so he couldn’t get her face right. The reason why this portrait needs to be done is because when it is finished her mother is sending her to Milan to get married. And you know…the woman doesn’t want to get married. Also, she’s suffering from depression because her sister killed herself by jumping off a cliff not too long ago. So they hire this other woman painter and they tell the aristocrat that she is there to go on walks with her and console her. The painter though is trying to just look at her face to do a portrait, until she isn’t, and she listens to the aristocrat, and you know, falls in love with her. The love story is tastefully done. Yes, there is nudity and some kissing, but there aren’t any full on gratuitous sex scenes, which kind of makes their love for each other earned in a way. Not like what the movie Blue Is The Warmest Color does. If you’ve ever seen THAT movie…then yeah, don’t worry, it is nothing like that. The movie is in French with English subtitles, and clocks in at an even 2 hours, but this is one period piece that actually kept my interest because of the acting, the pace of the story, and the beautiful cinematography of the sea side French landscapes.
The only real problems I had with the movie was the very beginning, a certain plot element that could’ve been completely cut out, and the ending should’ve ended one scene earlier. I can’t really reveal why it should’ve ended one scene earlier, other than to say that if you ever watch this movie, you’ll know why the scene right before the last one was more perfect than when it really decided to cut to black. The very beginning of the movie was a problem for me because I can’t stand it when movies start in the present day, and then go back in time to lead to the present. It voids a lot of mystery of where the characters might end up. And while I was wrong about the fate of one of the characters, there was no guessing about the other one, because it reveals that’s she’s alive and well right at the beginning of the film. And the frustrating thing about it is that scene could’ve played at the end and still had the same effect, maybe even more so, on the audiences emotions than where it plays at the beginning. Lastly, there is a B plot of the two women helping a young house maid get an abortion of a kid she doesn’t want. And if you’ve seen Dirty Dancing, you’ll know that was a plot thread too. That plot thread is the main reason I can’t stand Dancing, here it is done a little more tastefully, but I felt like it could’ve been cut out or re written to give more screen time to our two lead protagonists. But the movie is solid as is. If you like international feature films, I highly recommend a viewing, as it is a gorgeous movie to look at, as well as it has a decent love story of yore. I don’t know the director or any of the actresses from anything else, so I will save you a history lesson, and just say that all involved did a great job. You could watch much worse things on Hulu right now…like Shirley! This one is more on fire than that one for sure.