As the world must now become comfortable in their homes for the time being, streaming will soar to new heights and the release of Neon’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire on Hulu is indicative of that.
Streaming has always stirred up controversy in the film world and the last two Oscar ceremonies are proof of that. Films like Roma, The Irishman, and Marriage Story proved good enough to nominate, but many voters also felt strongly about the implications streaming might have for the theater experience.
That is, people are afraid of streaming taking over movie theaters and consequently putting thousands of people out of jobs because who needs a theater attendant when you’re just watching something in bed? Valid arguments, but thanks in large to the COVID-19 spread that has impacted the world, including the closing of most movie theaters around the world, streaming has become THE option for both cinephiles and casual stream surfers, leading to these streaming services becoming even more competitive than ever before.
For Hulu, their strategy involves the acquisition of both popular shows and successful indie cuts, streaming the likes of Booksmart, The Nightingale, Sorry to Bother You, and most recently the acclaimed French romantic drama, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Portrait serves as among Hulu’s first flirtations with quick moves to streaming during the covid-19 panic, with the film having only debuted in American theaters this past Valentine’s Day.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire, from director Celine Sciamma, makes its Hulu debut on March 27th, or the day I write this article, so now the romantic drama is available for American Hulu streamers to watch. The film tells the story of Marianne (Noemie Merlant), a talented painter tasked with travelling to a remote island to secretly paint the portrait of a soon-to-be-married woman named Heloise (Adele Haenel), who is both unhappy with her pending marriage and smitten with the idea of freedom, which bonds the women as they grow closer to each other.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire has notoriously gone through various stages of popularity, from initial interest at last year’s Cannes Film Festival to growing anticipation for its release to now becoming one of the most unlikely breakouts of the past year. Much like Parasite (also from Neon, oddly), Portrait of a Lady on Fire became a surprise foreign-language hit largely thanks to its progressive story and incredibly vocal fans, many of whom dubbed themselves the Portrait Nation as a result.
The Portrait Nation played a big role in the film’s surprisingly fruitful box office returns, earning almost $4 million at the US box office, which may not seem like much, but is incredibly successful for a foreign film and even more impressive considering that the film is very much a slow art-house film. It’s not a quirky romcom (though it certainly has its moments) and it’s aimed to be a strong cinematic experience, making the closing of most American theaters even more disappointing as a result.
Luckily, Hulu specializes in small breakouts like Portrait of a Lady on Fire so with that comes another chance for cooped up Americans to try something new, even if caused by immense boredom. Streaming is now and will likely thrive long after the covid-19 spread slows to a halt, so it’ll be important to keep an eye of streaming services and analyze what they have to offer in the coming months.
Netflix has already acquired the upcoming comedy, The Lovebirds, while Disney has benefited from releasing the likes of Onward, Frozen II, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on both VOD and Disney+. Shudder has the horror field covered and that leaves Hulu with its nice variety of selections, now with Portrait of a Lady on Fire available as one of those options now. Now that there’s also a Criterion edition of Portrait coming out in June, it’s safe to say that the Portrait Nation have done their job with spreading the good news.
It’ll be interesting to see where other indie titles land or if they’re even going straight to streaming. A24 has notoriously delayed the releases of First Cow and Saint Maud to yet-to-be-announced dates, firmly showing its support for theatrical releases. That doesn’t guarantee every indie title will go the same route and Portrait of a Lady on Fire‘s debut on Hulu may be indicative of both Hulu’s direction going forward and the next possible alternative for smaller breakouts as well.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is streaming now on Hulu in America and will be on VOD this April! Have you seen it? If not, have you heard of it? Sound off below!