I’ve Loved You So Long (Il y a Longtemps que Je T’Aime) is a small and delicately crafted drama about a woman adapting to ordinary life after spending 15 years in prison for murder. The film is anchored on a brilliant performance by Kristin Scott Thomas as Juliette Fontaine, a former doctor recently released from prison who finds a mixed reception at the home of her sister, Lea (Elsa Zylberstein).
Although Lea is somewhat bemused by the crime for which Juliette was imprisoned — the murder of her own six-year-old son — her husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) is less than amused. A firm believer in the payment of one’s debt to society, Luc is only barely able to overcome his distaste for the convicted murderess living under his roof. Lea, on the other hand, is deeply curious about the reasons behind her sister’s actions, which influenced her own decision to adopt. Yet Juliette remains stubbornly silent, having retreated deep inside herself, and only sporadically explodes with emotion, in one case against a prying social worker. The magic of I’ve Loved You So Long is the manner in which Scott Thomas is able to provide occasional glimpses into the fiercely guarded interior of Juliette.
Thomas, a noted beauty, is best known for glamorous roles such as that of Katharine Clifton in Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient (1995) and Fiona in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). In I’ve Loved You So Long, she casts off the silk scarves, party hats, jodhpurs and riding boots and replaces them with a much drabber wardrobe accompanied by a visage bleached of color. She nevertheless shines as brightly as ever, albeit with a different light, hinting at the great passion beneath her calm and apparently resigned exterior.
Thomas’ character plays brilliantly in concert with Zylberstein’s Lea, a literature teacher who desperately wants to understand or at least nurture her sister whose damaged soul has come under care. Juliette, who has clearly always fought her own battles, is disinclined to give her sister the satisfaction of playing savior and thus keeps Lea at arm’s length. The relationship is prickly, though not without kindness and good intentions on both sides.
Juliette’s strength is sustained in part by the self-belief of a survivor. This makes her sometimes disdainful of people like Lea, ignorant observers of a tragedy they cannot understand, and sympathetic to those like her parole officer Capitaine Faure (Frederic Pierrot), whose inconsequential banter to put her at ease emerges as a cry for help from an inner world of loneliness and despair.
The film progresses through little revelations that follow one after the other in effortless succession. It is peopled with wonderful minor characters such as Papy Paul (Jean-Claude Arnaud), Juliette’s grandfather whose stroke-induced muteness reflects her own silence, and Monsieur Lucien (Gerard Barbonnet), an elderly rogue persistently trying his luck with the ladies at the community swimming pool. No more than spots and splashes across the canvas, these characters nevertheless enrich the film, evoking the everyday needs and common misfortunes against which Juliette’s own tragedy is framed.
Although a film that is about death and the need to carry on in the absence loved ones, I’ve Loved You So Long never becomes depressing or maudlin. It is full of the small things that make life good, and its wry humor, like Juliette’s slightly lopsided smile, is both charming and intriguing.
I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (IL Y A LONGTEMPS QUE JE T’AIME)
DIRECTED BY: PHILIPPE CLAUDEL
STARRING: KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS (JULIETTE FONTAINE), ELSA ZYLBERSTEIN (LEA), SERGE HAZANAVICIUS (LUC), LAURENT GREVILL (MICHEL), FREDERIC PIERROT (CAPITAINE FAURE)
LANGUAGE: IN FRENCH WITH CHINESE SUBTITLES
RUNNING TIME: 117 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
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