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Portrait of a Lady on Fire review: the perfect Valentine’s Day movie

The best romances are about physical proximity. Two people become so close to each other that they simply cannot stay apart. Every brush of hands against each other, every longing look — they all combine into something irresistible and unstoppable.

There’s an exquisite agony to watching two people who should be together defy the odds and remain apart, then an incredible pleasure in seeing them finally fall into each other’s arms.

But the best love stories, by contrast, require physical separation, pulling two people who should be together apart by a force stronger than themselves. The force could be death. It could be a society that refuses to acknowledge their love. It could just be geography.

The point is that in both romances and love stories, happiness and connection have to ultimately be fleeting for us to truly feel satisfied. We know too well from so many examples that the first kiss gives way to the reality of actually getting to know another person and realizing all their tics and flaws. Similarly, once a perfect love is realized, we find it almost easier to believe that it can only continue to exist if the lovers can no longer see each other. We always ache most for that which we can’t have.

What makes the French masterpiece Portrait of a Lady on Fire — one of my favorite movies ever made, and the perfect Valentine’s Day date movie — so good is that it’s both a great romance and a great love story. The two bleed into each other so skillfully that you’ll almost miss where the romance begins and the love story ends.

And right alongside the blend of romance and

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