Reviews - I've Loved You So Long
I've Loved You So Long
Reviewed By John Stakes
Scott Thomas plays the bi-lingual Juliette, the older sister of Léa, a married woman living in rural France with her husband, their two adopted Vietnamese children and her father in law who is mute following a stroke. The sisters became separated fifteen years ago when Léa was eight for reasons which are only gradually revealed.
At the outset it is clear from Juliette’s heavily drawn, make-up free but still elegant face that she has had a traumatic past life. The film is structured around the gradual revelation of the true reason for her sibling estrangement and Juliette’s slow but painful re-engagement with the world. Fifteen years earlier when a doctor, she was convicted of the murder of her six year old terminally ill son Pierre by lethal injection as to which she had said practically nothing in her defence at her trial. Her son’s death prompted her parents to disown her and to forbid Léa, who was then unaware of what had happened, from having any contact with her.
As Juliette’s release approached Léa took up a suggestion by Social Services that she visit her sister in prison to help her to adjust to the outside world and the film opens as Léa meets Juliette on her release to take her to live with her. It becomes clearer later that if Léa had declined to visit her sister in prison Juliette would never have tried to find her.
Scott Thomas’s performance as the tortured and withdrawn Juliette (“the worst prison is the death of one’s child”) was remarkable. For just under the two hours’ running time she dominated the screen often in stark close up so that her every nuanced reaction to people and events was revealingly captured which provided the means by which her inner feelings surfaced and we could gauge her transition from a detached emotional recluse to a caring woman.
Elsa Zylberstein’s Léa was an equally impressive study of a woman determined to bond with her sister at the risk of intensifying the tensions within the family. In the process she reveals her life choices have been an apparent repudiation of Juliette’s past even to the extent of denying herself the opportunity of natural childbirth. However director Claudel cleverly and subtly captures similarities between the two women in looks, dress sense and inner goodness which help gradually to bring Juliette’s barrier down.
Lise Ségur as Léa’s elder daughter P’tit Lys delivered a disarmingly charming performance particularly when revealing some wonderfully direct insights into adult behaviour. The character of Michel ( Laurent Grévill), one of Léa’s teaching colleagues whose affection for Juliette grows as her cold indifference to him thaws, mirrored Claudel’s own experience as a prison teacher for eleven years. It is Michel who poses the question, the answer to which encapsulates the extent to which Juliette’s re-engagement with life has progressed when she delivers the film’s memorable closing line to him “I’m here” and in the same breath to her sister … ‘I’m here” .
It is highly likely that Claudel’s film will reap more awards as the season reaches its climax. For Keswick’s near capacity audience it was by far the most appreciated film of a stimulating season.
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