I've Loved You So Long Movie Review (3 Stars)
Movie Review by Michael Phillips
Kristin Scott Thomas & Elsa Zylberstein
Largely because of the roles she's offered, the aura surrounding Kristin Scott Thomas recalls the classic pre-"Ninotchka" Garbo, who wanted to be alone.
Only with Thomas it's more like "No. Really. Leave me the hell alone."
She can be a forbidding presence, and she has that tinge of Continental lucre about her.
But Kristin Scott Thomas is a wonderful, resourceful actress who draws from a very deep well, given the chance.
The French-language movie drama "I've Loved You So Long" is worth seeing mainly for the opportunity it affords Kristen Scott Thomas, who -- if you care about these things -- seems like a good bet for an Oscar nomination, and who is no less effective in French than in English.
Kristin Scott Thomas may in fact be more effective in this methodical tale filled with neutral interiors and artfully withheld secrets.
Kristin Scott Thomas plays Juliette, a doctor by training who has just been released from a 15-year prison sentence. Her crime: killing her 6-year-old son. Readjusting to life outside prison walls, searching for employment, she moves in with her younger sister (Elsa Zylberstein), a literature professor married to a man (Serge Hazanavicius) not thrilled with Juliette's presence. The interactions between Juliette and the couple's adopted Vietnamese daughters are closely watched.
Novelist Philippe Claudel wrote the tale for the screen, and in this, his directorial feature debut, he keeps his camera and his story well-trained on the studiously deglamorized Thomas throughout.
Part of the film's design fixes our interest on everyone's response to this newly sprung killer. At a dinner party, Juliette is asked what she has been doing with her life. With an air of forced jollity she tells the assembled guests the truth, and while it's laughed off as a joke, a friend (Laurent Grevill) of Lea's eyes Juliette. He knows she's not kidding.
Claudel taps each character neatly into place (too neatly for my taste). Lea and her husband live with the husband's mute, ailing father (Jean-Claude Arnaud), and he's a prisoner of another sort -- an angelic one, content and serene -- as well as Juliette's spiritual confidant.
"I've Loved You So Long" is held together by the scenes between Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein, which are superbly acted.
Like a well-made play, the story of what happened 15 years earlier comes tumbling out at the climax. I am of two minds on this resolution, though I can't talk about the details, except to say that (a) the way it's written Claudel settles for a morally lightweight, dramatically facile explanation, which is transcended by (b) the sheer force and grace and power of Thomas' one and only Big Scene.
What Kristin Scott Thomas does in "I've Loved You So Long" is akin to what Kirk Douglas did in "Paths of Glory": She keeps a tight rein on her melodramatic instincts throughout. Then, at precisely the right moment, the character's delayed release becomes the audience's gratification.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and smoking).
Running time: 1:57.
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas (Juliette); Elsa Zylberstein (Lea); Serge Hazanavicius (Luc); Laurent Grevill (Michel); Frederic Pierrot (Faure); Lisa Segur (P'tit Lys).
Written and directed by Philippe Claudel; photographed by Jerome Almeras; edited by Virginia Bunting; music by Jean-Louis Aubert; production designed by Samuel Deshors; produced by Sylvestre Guarino. A Sony Pictures Classics release. In French with English subtitles.
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