Iíve Loved You So Long

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            When the pickings are slim where the real things play, DVD becomes the only route to the ones we missed. Why was it so hard to find ďIíve Loved You So LongĒ in an outlying theater? The distribution system missed one of the finest movies of the year.             

            What is it about the French? How do they make a gripping movie without telling us how gripping it is? For one thing, they arenít afraid of silences Ė long, slow silences that allow the characters to burrow through the quiet right into our hearts. For another, they assume our adulthood by not explaining things. Either could have ruined this movie.

            Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) has just been released from prison after serving a term of fifteen years. Her sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) has come to pick her up at the airport. The details of Julietteís crime reveal themselves gradually, and until they do, they hang heavily in the air, a great shadow over her new freedom and family. Lea brings Juliette home to her husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) and two little girls. The older of the two adopted Vietnamese children, Lys (Lise Segur) is a key figure in the plot and is simply wonderful. 

            As the sisters arrive at Leaís house, Juliette runs her fingers slowly over the leaded glass window panes and manages in her silence, to let us know how it must feel to be able to touch things she hasnít seen in fifteen years. Wearing an oversized coat and a prison pallor, Juliette responds very slowly to her new surroundings. She curls up on the couch in the room of Lucís invalid father, not to talk, but just to be there. She warms to little Lys and makes friendship out of piano lessons. With her long, long silences, Scott Thomasís Juliette can seem cold and distant, but Lea, with an equally slow but vivid insistence, pulls her toward peace. Scott Thomas tells us everything about Juliette with elegant restraint. 

            Elsa Zylbersteinís Lea is in an excruciating spot between a husband who doesnít quite trust Juliette and friends who talk in euphemisms about her past. Worse, when the past comes up, they change the subject abruptly. The deliberate pace is shattered sharply but momentarily from time to time by questions Ė from a dinner guest who has had too much to drink, from Lys, then by the younger sister. Zylbersteinís is a terrific performance that allows both sadness and exuberance to surface and finally, in a remarkable scene, raw courage as she follows her sister through a closed door. Watch too for a beautiful moment when the sisters, in a piano duet from their childhood, join in shared smiles that bring back the good of the past and transcend the bad of the present. 

            Philippe Claudel wrote the script and directed these two fine actresses who play in exactly the key he set for them. It is a richly solemn and rewarding collaboration.


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