Saturday, December 27, 2008

Film Review: I've Loved You So Long

I've Loved You So Long
Directed by Philippe Claudel
Released October 24, 2008

Simple human dramas are a rare thing in this day and age of movies, where action blockbusters or complex thrillers rule the day. It’s a pleasure to find a film where one single narrative thread carries through the entire story, and serves to create a compelling enough film without the use of infinite twists or special effects. In "I’ve Loved You So Long," Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) returns from a fifteen-year prison sentence to live with her sister and her sister’s family. Juliette’s criminal deed is unknown, but it’s that very truth that unravels as Juliette and those around her struggle to accept her assimilation back into normal life. "I’ve Loved You So Long" thrives on focusing on a small cast with a few recurring faces, and as a result, each character’s tendencies and motivations are fully fleshed out and exposed. Kristin Scott Thomas’ quiet portrayal of Juliette, a woman who’d rather keep to herself than attempt to make friends, is at first alarming, but over the course of the film, her transformation into a more sympathetic character is fascinating to watch. Thomas has been absent from leading roles in major films almost since 1996’s "The English Patient," and it’s great to have her back, fluent in French, no less. Thomas’ performance unquestionably carries this movie, but the fine supporting turn by Elsa Zylberstein as Juliette’s sister Léa should not be ignored. Zylberstein is the enthusiastic, intellectual foil to Thomas’ reserved, unsmiling Juliette, and their interactions are among the most affecting in the movie. Supporting players also leave their mark, most notably Laurent Grévill as a colleague of Léa’s and sympathetic suitor of Juliette’s, and Frédéric Pierrot as Juliette’s chatty, likable parole officer. The cast does work wonderfully together, and that’s perhaps the most impressive thing about I’ve Loved You So Long. Sadly, the film is not without problems. As a whole, it has little to offer in terms of actual depth – all the subtext is accessible on the characters’ faces. The characters are so much a part of the story that, absent of the performances, there’s little else there. Viewed a second time, the story seems much emptier, and it’s all a means to an end. There are some important scenes throughout, but it’s all buildup to the explosion of emotions that comes near the end of the film. It’s a lengthy film to contain few crucial sequences, and when the credits roll, viewers are likely to remember Thomas’ performance rather than the movie itself. The editing is weak and ineffective – scenes fade in or fade out and it seems like there should be something before or after but whoever it was (the director, the writer, or the editor) couldn’t create a bridge between moments and opted for the easy route. The choppy parts add up to a decent whole; however upon dissection it’s far more fallible than it may initially appear. I’ve Loved You So Long is slow-moving, and a fine script and terrific ensemble just can’t quite ferry it along to make it engaging enough the entire time. It’s not supposed to be a pulse-pounding, exciting film, but the relaxed pacing often makes it more than a bit boring. With that in mind, it is refreshing to be able to fully sink into a rare, personal, intimate human drama like this one.


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