I've Loved You So Long

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BERLIN -- Rarely do head and heart coalesce to such sublime effect in film as in "I've Loved You for So Long", the debut feature by Philippe Claudel, who directs like a veteran. Drawing from his background as a novelist and screenwriter, Claudel definitely put his heart and soul into the script to ensure that no scene is gratuitous, no shot is sloppily composed, and every line from the key characters is nuanced to shed light on the past and future of their development.

Kristin Scott Thomas deserves an award for her stupendous turn as a woman released from prison trying to rebuild her relationship with her estranged sister, and regain her place in society. The rest of the cast provide solid support in enhancing her performance. The film's tasteful, continental flavor should play to discerning audiences in and outside of European art houses. Festivals ignore this at their own loss.

Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) completes her 15-year jail sentence for a crime considered a heinous offense against nature. She is taken in by her sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), a literature professor who lives in the cozy French town of Nancy with her lexicographer husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), his father and their adopted daughters. Their parents have disowned Juliette, and brought up Lea, still a girl at the time, as if she were an only child. Although the locals cannot suppress their curiosity about Juliette, Lea and Luc are initially embarrassed to include her into their social lives. Their behavior provides an acute satire on the smug bourgeois values of a provincial town. Only the pesky nieces take an instant shine to their newfound aunt. Faure, a divorced policeman and Michel (Laurent Grevill), Lea's colleague, both become fascinated with Juliette's mysteriously aloof air.

The camera accompanies Juliette wherever she goes, observing her loneliness and sorrow in close-ups of her lined, careworn face, in medium shots of her among people yet keeping a distance with her body language and in long shots of her all alone against an impersonal backdrop. Prison becomes a metaphor for many things -- for society with its confining laws and mores, or a state of mind that not only Juliette, but other characters are in. There is a moment of recognition and empathy when she tells Michel he "always sees the world through books."

Claudel takes great care in placing the narrative building blocks that lead up to a gradual and deeply moving rapprochement between Juliette and the rest of humanity. He orchestrates scenes of underlying emotional intensity with composure, such as Juliette's reunion with her mother, or Luc's first display of trust by asking Juliette to babysit. As Juliette slowly comes out of her shell, the lighting is warmer and the makeup softer, so she literally turns more and more beautiful.

A few scenes before the denouement, Juliette and Michel are captured in a shot in a museum with the statue of an angel hovering above them. The iconic image adds a spiritual dimension to her suffering and final salvation, and is an expression of faith in the human capacity to redress injustice and prejudice with love and understanding.

The narrative pieces together Juliette's past bit by suspenseful bit, so the audience is kept equally on edge as those around her. The final revelation is timed to make reconciliation achieved in the moving coda as cathartic for the audience as the sisters. By then, Juliette and those who constitute her new circle have reciprocally made the leap of forgiveness and acceptance as to have rendered the truth just a thing of the past.

I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime)
UGC YM Images/France 3 Cinema/ Integral Film
Credits:
Screenwriter-Director: Philippe Claudel
Producer: Sylvestre Guarino
Executive producer: Yves Marmion
Director of photography: Jerome Almeras
Production designer: Samuel Deshors
Music: Jean-Louis Auber
Co-producer: Alfred Hurmer
Costume designer: Jacqueline Bouchard
Editor: Virginia Bunting
Cast:
Juliette: Kristin Scott Thomas
Lea: Elsa Zylberstein
Luc: Serge Hazanavicius
Michel: Laurent Grevill
Running time -- 115 minutes
No MPAA rating
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