Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Every frame’s a painting in Portrait of a Lady on Fire – so it took a real lack of artistic vision to waste each carefully composed shot. That helped to leave Portrait piddling out after a big burst of early Oscar buzz in 2019. The most beautiful film of the year rightfully lost out to Les Misérables as France’s official entry for the 2020 Oscars. That’s because the production is oddly passionless in following a female portraitist hired to stealthily paint Héloïse, who’s clearly quite sporty as an 18th century convent girl being forced into marriage. The luscious lesbian love story is constantly stalled by Héloïse being the kind of irritating gal who replies to simple questions with answers like “I don’t know if I can swim.” Luàna Bajrami gets to keep stealing scenes with her subplot as a pregnant servant, while the lead liaison is left to limp through multiple endings. The final finale is grandly romantic, but is also a reminder of how much more interesting this movie would’ve been as a 1941 tearjerker starring Joseph Cotton and Merle Oberon. Instead, Portrait pales next to modern festival favorites like Satan’s Alley.