Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I've Loved You So Long - DVD Introduction

Philippe Claudel’s I’ve Loved You So Long (2008) is a touching, quiet film about a woman who suffers extreme inner pain in silence. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Juliette, a woman who is released from a fifteen-year prison sentence and who comes to live with her sister, Lea, whom she hasn’t seen or heard from during those fifteen years. Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), married, with two adopted children, wants nothing more than to bond with her sister and break through the walls of that prison of silence.

The superb performances of Thomas and Zylberstein provide a study in contrasts. Juliette seeks solace in silence. She shyly adjusts to her sister’s household but snaps at one of her nieces when the little girl asks too many questions about her past. She seeks refuge in the book-filled room where Lea’s father-in-law, who has lost his speech to a stroke, spends most of his day reading.

Lea is a sunny day in contrast with Juliette’s gray aura. She is bright-eyed, energetic, and affectionate. She wants nothing more than to get to know and understand the sister she was told to forget for the past fifteen years. She is curious about what has caused her sister’s painful silence. I don’t quite understand why Lea can’t seek out newspaper archives to find out the details of the shocking thing Juliette did to be sentenced to fifteen years behind bars, but her sleuthing and persistence show her empathetic devotion to her older sister. Lea wants nothing more than to have a relationship with the sister whose existence had been removed from her life for fifteen years.

This is a fine film that is never melodramatic or contrived. Scenes are simple and believable – conversations in a café or at a park bench; a visit to a museum and the viewing of a painting called “Pain;” dinners with family and friends that lead to tension and/or revelation. Similarly, the performances are always true – and Zylberstein’s admiring younger sister shines through as a well-developed, finely evoked character as much as Thomas’s suffering Juliette who never gains complete triumph over her pain – only the hope of a quantum of deliverance.


portrower said...

One of the moments I found most moving in a film of many moving moments is when Juliette tells Michel that she came back "for that little girl" - Lea. She recalls Lea's childhood smile and the way she put her little hand in Juliette's. I also appreciated the way Juliette's last line: "I'm here" connects with her earlier discussion with Michel about "the absent one": she says that's what the other inmates called her, and he tells her about a novel in which a beautiful woman is referred to as "the absent one." Finally, all of the sisterly moments rang totally true. Anyone who has experienced a closer relationship with a sister feels complete recognition during scenes like the one where Juliette and Lea are combing their hair in front of the mirror and Lea says, "I always wanted to look like you."

hokahey said...

portrower - Thanks for the comment. It seems clear that you have analyzed this film closely, and I totally agree that the sisterly relationship is truly portrayed throughout the film. Yes, there are a lot of touching moments in this film, but they are never melodramatic.