I've Loved You So Long

I've Loved You So Long

****

Reviewed by: Val Kermode

This is the first film to be directed by prize-winning writer Philippe Claudel, and it is a many-layered film, made with a novelist’s eye for detail. It deals with themes such as confinement and rebirth through the story of two sisters, long separated, trying to become close again despite a terrible secret which lies between them.

For 15 years Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) has had no ties with her family, which rejected her. Lea, her younger sister (Elsa Zylberstein) comes to collect her from the airport and take her into her home which she shares with her husband, Luc, his father and their two young adopted daughters.

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We soon learn that Juliette has spent those 15 years in prison for murder, but she is unwilling or unable to reveal more, leaving each person she comes into contact with to deal with this in their own way.

Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) reacts to Juliette as many people would, being asked to take into his home someone who has just come out of prison and who is a stranger to him. As Lea and Juliette become close, his own relationship with his wife and the balance of his family happiness seem threatened. It soon becomes apparent that Juliette’s incarceration and the family taboos which accompanied her have completely destroyed her younger sister, in her life as an adolescent, then in her life as woman, wife and mother. As Juliette resurfaces, changes begin to take place, for her and for everyone around her.

As she is obliged to report regularly to the police, one of the first people Juliette meets is Captain Faure (a beautiful and touching performance from Frederic Pierrot) . Faure, like Juliette, reveals a fractured humanity. Unlike others, he never judges her. Their relationship raises the question of the good or bad we can do someone unintentionally through gestures and words not spoken at the right moment.

Michel (Laurent Grevill), a colleague of Lea, also becomes close to Juliette. Because he has spent many years teaching in a prison (like Claudel himself) he has some understanding of her experience and gradually reveals himself to be someone who has also been an outcast like her.

There are many beautiful scenes between the two sisters, and it is good to see Kristin Scott Thomas, often underused, in a role which makes real demands on her talents. Claudel deliberately downplays her natural beauty showing, at the beginning of the film, all the years of incarceration tattooed on her face, her character tightly framed while the camera on others is lighter, more mobile.

The film moves gradually from dark to light as Juliette reclaims her life. Atmosphere is created by meticulous attention to detail, in colours, in clothes, in the books which fill the house. Indeed, books have an important role to play. Characters are brought together by their favourite books, Juliette says she used to keep books by her pillow when she was in prison, Michel tells her “Books can help more than people”.

The film’s title comes from a well-known lullaby “A la claire fontaine”. The line “I’ve loved you for so long” is followed by “Never shall I forget you”. Juliette accuses Lea of forgetting her, but this is a story of many cries for help, many types of confinement, from old age and Alzheimer’s to the solitude of the divorcee , to the confinement of mourning. There are often short scenes, ending in a single line or gesture which suddenly reveals a great depth of pain, as when Samir, whose new wife has just had a baby, picks up the photograph of the family he lost.

This is a strong and sober story which, despite its tragic starting point, is ultimately optimistic. Sincerely and sensitively told, it is a plea not to judge the people we meet and to help them when they need it most.

Reviewed on: 23 Sep 2008
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I've Loved You So Long packshot
Estranged sisters reunite under difficult circumstances.
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Anton Bitel ***

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CFF 2008

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