Thursday, November 6, 2008

I've Loved You So Long

My review of the new French film, I've Loved You So Long, appears in this week's WE.

I've Loved You So Long
By Andrea Warner
4 stars

Fractious sisters and women playing “ugly” (read: au naturel) are the twin wonders of cinema in 2008 (see also: Then She Found Me, Frozen River, Silent Light). But, to date, no one has brought such exquisite elegance to the combination as Kristin Scott Thomas, who stars in one of the most resonant films of the year, the beautiful French weeper, I’ve Loved You So Long.

Thomas disappears wholly inside the character of Juliet, a lean, brittle, exposed nerve of a woman who is reunited with her younger sister, Léa (the sweetly hopeful Elsa Zylberstein), after 15 years. Léa is young and vibrant, with the complete package: a happy family, a career as a literature professor, and a beautiful home. Juliet is starting from scratch, her belongings being one suitcase and plenty of emotional baggage.

The 15-year absence is central to the plot twists, and, as the sisters slowly reconnect, Juliet finds herself further entrenched in Léa’s life. The women dance around each other — Juliet guarded and cold, Léa tentative and yearning — and the subsequent revelations provide one emotional wallop after another.

This is a film that wraps its broken heart inside a blanket of books, as almost every character — a multi-ethnic cast of casual intellectuals who read (!) and are more interesting for it — retreats into the world of fiction to make sense of their lives.

If the film makes one misstep, it’s the compulsive need to redeem Juliet in its last five minutes. Thorny issues involving law and morality politicize her journey, weakening the impact of the sisters’ cathartic climax. But, it’s just one flaw in an otherwise perfect facade. C’est la vie.

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