You might think there’s not a lot of choice this year, but you’d be surprised by two of the smaller films on offer. I was.
I had heard that Portrait of a Lady on Fire was the lesbian film of the year (last year) and I noticed that it was being re-released for Valentine’s Day this year, so I arranged to go to a screening, not really knowing what the film was about. It blew me away, so much so that I can honestly say that it was by far the best film I’ve seen in the last year.
It tells the story of an artist who is sent to a small French seaside town in the 18th century to paint the portrait of another woman who is betrothed to a noble man in Milan who has previously been engaged to her sister, who has committed suicide instead of getting married. The woman whose portrait is to be painted refuses to sit for the portrait because it is essentially an advertisement for her wedding, but she falls in love with the artist as she surreptitiously paints her.
But the movie is so much more than the story of two women falling in love.
It manages to be a sweeping indictment of the omnipresent patriarchy while still being empowering. It is also an amazing visual and thematic discourse on the arts, freedom and sacrifice. And there is a powerful subplot on abortion that I never could have imagined seeing in a French film set in the 1700’s. This is such a feminist film!
I will own it when it comes out on Blu-Ray and I hardly buy anything anymore.
It won best screenplay at Cannes in 2019, and should have been France’s submission for Best Foreign Film for the Oscars.
So go with a friend, or a loved one, but go.
The other February 14th movie that I recommend is The Photograph set in Queens, NY and Louisiana and spanning two generations of a black family, but mostly focusing on the women. It’s the story of a daughter in search of a mother, a mother’s love, and love itself, and how that search can cross a generational divide. The mother in the film has recently died and left her daughter, an assistant curator at the Queens museum, a letter explaining the decisions she made that enabled her to become a famous photographer (whose work is going on exhibit at the museum).
This is another movie that will make you think about love, and those you love, after you’ve seen it.