Claudel's head character is one of immediate mystery. Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) sits at an airport smoking a cigarette, waiting for something, anything. Her sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) appears and greets her enthusiastically, even as Juliette keeps her cold composure. She begins to connect with her nieces, immediately threatens her brother-in-law Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) and makes friendly with Luc's father (Jean-Claude Arnaud). Her delicate mood even permeates a patient relationship with Lea's colleague Michel (the reliably-great Laurent Grévill).
The film goes the slow way of revealing that Juliette has just been released from prison. Her crime doesn't become completely clear until film's end, but what becomes evident is that she was responsible for the murder of her son some 15 years ago. Blandly stylized, I've Loved You So Long thrives in a haze of regret and incalculable grief from that event but succeeds most in its depiction of Juliette's awakening.
Clear-sighted in its writing yet unsure in its direction and editing, Claudel's film hinges on Scott Thomas and, to a far lesser extent, Zylberstein. Scott Thomas has adapted an uncanny ability for internalizing action, a gift that gets a rigorous workout under Claudel. Tight-lipped and forever haggard, Juliette's gradual return to some semblance of self is a process played out largely through physicality, and Scott Thomas gives a steady-footed physical performance that ranks with her most celebrated work. Zylberstein has a delicate and nervous visage that plays well towards the emotionally mercurial Lea. At one moment chastising her husband, the next gently coaxing her sister to confess, it's an exceedingly well-contemplated performance often eclipsed by the brooding Scott Thomas.
For whatever blessings Claudel received with his cast and his admirable writing, Claudel takes very few chances with the material as a director and it sticks the film in neutral. Hesitant in imagery, the film often betrays the intensity of its performances by giving them formulaic scenery and action. For a family drama, it's chapter-and-verse filmmaking: competent, but lacking any hint of brio. This proves especially infuriating when Juliette confesses her actions to Michel, sitting next to a fireplace in a shot that looks identical to the cover of the last L.L. Bean catalog. At one point, Juliette is taken to task by an old friend who strangely segues into talking about the importance of the great Eric Rohmer. Though Claudel and Rohmer share a novelist past, their cinema couldn't be more different; I've Loved You So Long is certainly no La Collectionneuse.
Aka Il y a longtemps que je t'aime.
Someone's got a case of the just-got-out-of-prison Mondays.
Run time: 117 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 19th March 2008
Box Office USA: $2.9M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Production compaines: UGC Images
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 109 Rotten: 15
IMDB: 7.6 / 10
Director: Philippe Claudel
Producer: Yves Marmion
Screenwriter: Philippe Claudel
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas as Juliette, Elsa Zylberstein as Léa, Serge Hazanavicius as Luc, Claire Johnston as Mère, Frédéric Pierrot as Capitaine Fauré, Laurent Grévill as Michel, Lise Ségur as P'tit Lys, Jean-Claude Arnaud as Papy Paul, Mouss as Samir, Souad Mouchrik as Kaisha, Catherine Hosmalin as Conseillère d'insertion, Olivier Cruveiller as Gérard, Lily-Rose as Emilia
Also starring: Yves Marmion
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