15 December 2008

"I've Loved You So Long" film review

The impact of I've Loved You So Long may take longer to seep in, so I have posted a very good review from the Guardian and have added my own conclusions, only where they differ from Peter Bradshaw's.
Peter Bradshaw’s review of
I've Loved You So Long (2008)

The presence of Kristin Scott Thomas in this literate French movie was so powerfully distinctive that it's as if director Philippe Claudel wrote the lead role for her. Her formidable presence, her middle age beauty, her awareness of all the tiny absurdities and indignities with which she was surr-ounded, all created an intelligent, observant drama about dislocation and fragility of unshakeable memories. Scott Thomas was on screen for almost every minute of the film, often in close-up and her face was eloquent and withdrawn.

She played Juliette, a woman who after a long and painful separation was taken in by her younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein). When we first saw Juliette, being picked up at the airport, she wore no makeup, smoked perpetually and had clearly been institutionalised.

Juliette and Léa's childhood home was near Rouen, but Léa had now moved with her husband (Serge Hazanavicius) and two young children to Nancy. Juliette's English-accented French was explained by the fact that she spent some time in England and that the women's mother (Claire Johnston) was English, a demented woman in an old age home. Juliette's sole meeting with her mother was relentlessly awful.

The reason for Juliette's absence was a grim, unnameable secret. It was the elephant in the living room whose shadow had fallen over all their lives, and it was only when Juliette went for job interviews, or for mandatory meetings with caseworkers, or the local police officer with whom she had to sign in once a week, that she could speak the truth aloud. This Juliette did with a proud defiance, and a perverse pleasure in shocking people, to pre-empt their scorn.

While Juliette's 15-year-old secret had sent her entire family into shock and collective dysfunction, it was Juliette who had been able to look the facts squarely in the face and, having had a long time to come to terms with it, was relatively well adjusted. But Léa, carry­ing the twin burdens of her own family respectability and the need to appease her parents' angry demands for silence on the matter, had to spend her adult life in denial. Yet all this made Léa's pass­ion­ate need to reach out to her damaged sister all the more moving.

Without any uncomfortable cramming, Claudel adroitly suggested the slow process by which Juliette was gradually accepted into the family and the community. With miraculous efficiency, he gave her a flirt­ation with a melancholy cop, a sexual encounter with a stranger in a bar, and a growing, tender intimacy with Léa's colleague and fellow lecturer Michel (Laurent Grevill). Bradshaw didn’t mention the children but I would suggest that they went a long way to ease Juliette’s gradually acceptance into the family.

Peter Bradshaw reported that the final revelation, when it came, was just a little strained. It turned on the discovery of a photo and certain details on the back of a handwritten poem. But these details, he thought, did not appear to offer us much more know­ledge than we might have already guessed. I, on the other hand, found the final resolution of the story to be artificial and trite. It retrospectively undermined what had been realistic and painful tensions in the story line.

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