‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ Loses Out on France’s Oscar Pick to Ladj Ly’s ‘Les Miserables’

Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” Celine Sciamma’s ravishing lesbian romance that is one of the best reviewed movies of the year, will not be competing in the Oscar race for Best International Film (the new name for the Best Foreign Language Film category). France has officially submitted Ladj Ly’s “Les Miserables” as its Oscar entry. As IndieWire deputy film editor Kate Erbland reported earlier this week, France’s 2020 Oscar pick came down to three contenders: “Portrait,” “Les Miserables,” and Alice Winocour’s “Proxima.” All three movies were festival hits, with Sciamma picking up the Queer Palm and the Best Screenplay award at Cannes, Ly winning the Cannes Jury Prize, and Winocour earning an honorable mention from the Platform Prize jury at TIFF.

While “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” has been singled out as a critical favorite in 2019 (IndieWire even named it one of the best movies of the decade), Ly’s politically-driven “Les Miserables” script led many to believe France would view it as the stronger contender for Oscar voters. “Les Miserables” is inspired by the 2005 French riots and centers around a young man named Stéphane (Damien Bonnard) who has joined the anti-crime brigade in Montfermeil. Additional cast members include Alexis Manenti and Djibril Zonga. Amazon picked up U.S. distribution rights to “Les Miserables” during Cannes.

IndieWire senior film critic David Ehrlich gave “Les Miserables” a B review out of Cannes, calling it “a gripping and grounded procedural that probes the tensions between Paris’ anti-crime police and the poor Muslim population they torment and suppress.” “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” meanwhile, earned an A review and was hailed by Ehrlich as a “painterly masterpiece.”

As France’s official Oscar selection in the Best International Film category, “Les Miserables” joins a crowded race alongside top contenders such as Spain’s “Pain and Glory” (from Pedro Almodovar) and South Korea’s “Parasite” (Bong Joon Ho’s family thriller that is riding such strong Oscar buzz out of the festivals that it could break into major races like Best Picture and Best Director). Other films competing for the Best International Oscar prize include “Monos” (Colombia) and “Weathering With You” (Japan). Check out IndieWire’s predictions for the category here.