The Screening Room Blog
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Scott Thomas glows in Claudels 'I’ve Loved You So Long'

(LONDON, England) -- To my mind, one of the advantages of a film where not much happens (as opposed to wham bam big budget explosion-fests) are the insights into characters and situations that can be revealed when the camera is still.

“I’ve Loved You So Long,” by French director Philippe Claudel, is such a film -- an understated yet graceful study of a family thrown into awkward chaos.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Juliette, a haunted soul with a dark secret that threatens to unravel the carefully constructed perfect life of her sister, Lea (Elsas Zylberstein).

Estranged from each other for fifteen years, Lea welcomes Juliette into her Ikea-decorated, ‘Benetton’-colored, Volvo-toting lifestyle -- somewhat naively, in the opinion of her husband (Serge Hazanavicius). But slowly, we see Lea’s faith in her sister bear fruit: freed from physical incarceration, and helped by others along the way, Juliette begins to release herself from her mental prison.

Kindness is perhaps the most underrated virtue. Claudel demonstrates a deft touch at portraying gentle, everyday events and above all else, the human kindness that protects and supports Juliette as she returns to life. And in a mundane setting, the director tackles some of life's biggest questions: is there room for rehabilitation when one has committed an act so terrible? Is redemption ever truly possible, even given the most promising of circumstances, in a case like this?

There have been Oscar murmurings around Scott Thomas's performance, and they're not undeserved: she brings a stillness and a malevolent wit to her role. I’ve always felt that her greatest strength is her expressiveness, especially with her body, and in “I’ve Loved You So Long,” she speaks from her bones, spiking them with pain; her eyes a window on the fragmented tragedy Juliette desperately tries to mask. As her character walks a tightrope between salvation and despair, she switches fleetly between poised feline elegance and grotesque contortions, thrown up in stark contrast to her cosy, refined surroundings.

It's not just the luminous Scott Thomas, nor Zylberstein, who lets Lea’s dogged love for her sibling shine through. The sets and the town of Nancy glow with a soft light, and likewise, though Juliette's backstory is one of despair, anguish and torment, Claudel suffuses her tragic story with hope. Far from depressing, “I’ve Loved You So Long” shows that love and laughter can bloom even in the darkest situations -- and that, no matter what, as long as we let it, life goes on.

-- From CNN's Linnie Rawlinson

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