The Herald: September 2009
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I’ve Loved You So Long
Directed by: Phillipe Claudel
Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Elsa Zylberstein, Serge Hazanavicius, Laurent Grevill, Frédéric Pierrot, Lise Ségur, Claire Jonhston, Liliy-Rose
Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) are sisters, reunited after fifteen years. Juliette has spent these years incarcerated for murder and moves in with her sister upon her release. Director Phillipe Claudel deftly charts Juliette’s gradual reintegration into society and in doing so, reveals the attitudes and preconceived notions Juliette has to battle against. Lea’s husband, Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), rushes home from work, afraid to leave the couple’s baby girls alone with Juliette.
A turning point in the plot comes when Juliette is thrown out of a job interview when she reveals who she killed. Up until this point, the audience has sifted through every conversation for clues to Juliette’s crime – we only know that the murder was so heinous that she received no visitors in prison and her parents disowned her, forbidding Lea to mention her or communicate with her. After this denouement, the plot follows a fairly predictable course – Juliette stumbles along the path to redemption and finds a confidante (and love interest) in Lea’s coworker, Michel (Laurent Grevill), plays home-maker and loving aunt to her two nieces (Lise Ségur and Liliy-Rose) and eventually finds a job.
While there are some stand-out moments in the film, the plot was too familiar to this year’s Rachel Getting Married and a host of other such bad-girl-gone-good narratives. The audience is simply left waiting for the moment when the ‘bad girl’ is able to explain her motives (in this case, for the murder).
If you are expecting Kristin Scott Thomas a la The English Patient, sun-kissed and glowing, you are in for a rude shock. The actress delivers a notable performance – every feature and line in her face is taut with emotion and her eyes look disturbingly passionless – and draws the audience into the story of an otherwise-clichéd character.
Director and writer Phillipe Claudel’s screenplay was often clunky – the dialogue is peppered with references to ‘imprisonment’ or sentences such as ‘you saved my life’ which only serve as a verbal nudge-and-wink alluding to Juliette’s story. Jean-Louis Aubert’s score, however, perfectly accompanies Claudel’s style and the music matches the film’s mood beautifully.
In a scene from the film, Juliette’s niece says, ‘Prisons are for bad people.’ The film poses an important question – what about these ‘bad people’ after they emerge from prison? The purpose of prisons is to punish the perpetrators of socially unacceptable crimes and once you have done the time, what do you do? Juliette continues to pay for her crime even after she is released – shunned by her coworkers, cautioned by her boss not to reveal any information about her past, she bears the burden of a past too weighty to reveal, yet too crucial to hide from any friend, family or lover. Claudel also makes an important point – it is not just the perpetrators of the crime that suffer. Their families patiently wait for the interminable period to be over – Lea, for example, keeps a diary and marks every day of Juliette’s absence during her years in prison. The two sisters are also virtual strangers when they meet and Juliette’s nieces do not know she exists.
The film is a story of redemption that unravels its secrets slowly, and, for the patient viewer, pleasurably.