A wonderful film
Posted on December 12, 2009
We watched a wonderful movie last night, the 2008 French film I’ve Loved You So Long, written and directed by Phillipe Claudel (his first film) and starring Kristin Scott-Thomas. Scott-Thomas’s character, Juliette, is released from prison after serving 15 years for the murder of her six-year old son and the film traces the slow re-entry into life as she joins her sister’s family and society. Scott-Thomas should have received the Oscar for her performance — understated, controlled, and furious at the same time, she is able to speak volumes with a grimace or crack of a smile.
The film rated a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes (a 97% from their big name critics). There is some disagreement about the revelatory ending and I won’t ruin it here. Pat thinks the ending is necessary. I’m not sure, but it does not in any way ruin the film. This is not a plot driven film anyway — it’s really about character. The character that gets less attention alongside Scott-Thomas is Elsa Zylberstein’s Lea, Juliette’s sister. Zylberstein’s character, to my mind, provides the safety net in the film. Around her is an orbit of French bourgeois life, days of cooking, books, wine, animated discussion about ideas, and, of course, smoking. Smoking has never looked so good and natural and if it had been earlier in the evening I might have gone to Bunnies and bought my first pack since college. Lea is loyal, patient, and gentle with her emotionally distant sister and is, in many ways, the life preserver that helps Juliette back to shore.
The secondary characters are without flaw: the do-gooder social worker, the suffering police officer, Lea’s two adopted children, the academic friend who himself knows suffering. Indeed, almost everyone in the film knows suffering and the film is finally about the redemptive power of family and love, even if that redemption is hard fought, slowly gained, and even only tentative by the film’s end. For a slightly happier and funnier riff on the same theme, see Lars and the Real Girl (I’ve written about it before). For an even more “rip at your throat” painful rendition (where redemption is in short supply), see The Sweet Hereafter, the 1997 Atom Egoyan film based on Russell Banks novel.
There are so many bad movies produced every year that discovering one like I’ve Loved You So Long is itself redemptive, reminding us that actors on the screen (or on stage) can be transcendent. It’s rare these days, so do yourself a favor and rent this film. Be sure you are in the right mood (it does unfold slowly — hey, it’s French) and stock up on Kleenex.