I've Loved You So Long ***
Directed by Philippe Claudel
Written by Philippe Claudel
Kristin Scott Thomas as Juliette Fontaine
Elsa Zylberstein as Lea
Serge Hazanavicius as Luc
Laurent Grevill as Michel
Frederic Pierrot as Capitaine Faure
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and smoking.
"I've Loved You So Long" is a film that works with the conventions of its genre, and ultimately is successful when one views it as an actor's piece and nothing groundbreaking as a drama. The most credit goes to Kristen Scott Thomas, whose work in France extends to this summer's "Tell No One," and last year's comedy "The Valet," and she has ironically showed more talent while speaking French than I ever thought she did while speaking English. Working with material that is about an original in scope as a film made for television, Scott Thomas extends it to something more subtle and more human than I think the screenwriters were expecting. It's hard to imagine who else could have played the part, and its safe to say that without her the drama in 'I've Loved You So Long" could be a bit eye-rolling, and perhaps even tedious.
Beginning similar to "Rachel Getting Married," we are first introduced to Juliette as she is being released from prison into the hands of her sister, Lea, who she has not seen for many years. Juliette has been in jail for 15 years, for reasons that I will not reveal here. Regardless, she is practically re-introduced to her sister, who was quite young when Juliette went in. She comes to live with Lea, and meets her husband Luc, his father Papy Paul, Lea's two adopted children from Vietnam. And she begins to get adjusted to her surroundings once more, with several revelations about why she went to jail in the first place coming to light.
As I said, its very important to watch Kristin Scott Thomas during practically every move she makes, as a look she makes speaks more volumes about the character than any amount of dialogue can. For example, a scene where she is giving eyes towards a man in a bar, or a look at her sister as she watches her relationship with someone she works with. There is also strong work from Elsa Zylberstein, who plays Lea. She works almost as a direct opposite to Julilette, attempting to fill in all of the silences with some kind of awkward dialogue, never wanting to bring up the white elephant in the room, but wanting to work around it as much as possible. Take the first dinner scene, for example, where the two children continue to ask Juliette where she had been all their lives, and to stop them Lea attempts to discuss nearly everything else.
Thinking about it even furthur, there are more similarities between this film and "Rachel Getting Married" than I first thought. Both of them dealing with the exploration of a woman after a long stint in jail, the rebuilding of two sister's relationships, and a family dealing with past tragic events. I suppose I just got more out of the latter film, which I found haunting in its stark realism of family scenes, and I was also stunned by several things outside of the realm of acting-such as the visuals and the very careful choices made by Johnathan Demme. "I've Loved You So Long," aside from two nearly perfect female performances, just felt burdened with melodrama at times. The unique acting does stand a step higher, making me forgive the fact that its exactly the same as most French dramas that come out every year and just disappear when they come to the United States. Even some of the plot twists, such as one involving Juliette's probation officer, feel forced and unneeded. They do not expand on the character, and sometimes feel there simply to validate some of her past actions. "I've Loved You So Long" would be a film I would not recommend without the work by these two actresses, who elevate otherwise standard dramatic material into something a bit more unique.