Posts Tagged ‘Foreign’

18th March
2009
written by Mad Cow

(In French with English subtitles or can be gotten in an English-dubbed version on DVD)

Rated PG-13 for thematic material and smoking (NOTE: There’s a lot of smoking. The French have not yet discovered that it’s bad for you.)

Cow’s rating: three cowbells

I’ve Loved You So Long – Kristin Scott Thomas, a Brit who has adopted France for her home, stars in this haunting French drama. The title alone drew me to this movie. I knew also that it was about two sisters.  Since my sister threw me out of her life 10 years ago, I’ve been both drawn and repelled by sister stories. Written and directed by Philippe Claudel, the film tells the story of Juliette (Thomas) taking refuge in her sister’s home after 15 years in prison. Her sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) was a teenager when she was imprisoned and forbidden to contact Juliette. Léa welcomes Juliette into her family of husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), adopted Vietnamese daughters, and her father-in-law Papy (Jean-Claude Arnaud) who has had a stroke and doesn’t speak.

Juliette is withdrawn, moody, and clearly resentful of how she’s been expelled from her family – denied by her parents and never visited for all those years. We learn what she has done but not why she did it, and the mystery of the criminal circumstances provides enormous suspense for us. Juliette slowly comes out of her shell and begins to relate more to the people around her, but she is an object of doubt and suspicion, especially for Luc, who would rather not extend any hospitality.

What a wonderful year it has been for women’s parts. The personalities of the two sisters and the relationship between them drive this movie, providing the interest. Thomas, in a minimalist performance, is beguiling. She seems to define the path one takes in adjusting to the outside world after imprisonment. The portrayal may or may not be true-to-life, but I for one would have to be convinced otherwise. In contrast, Zylberstein embodies the loving younger sister who longs to regain a relationship even as many of its long-ago details escape her memory. She is also bothered by her ignorance of the crime and yet terrified to ask questions.

We finally find out Juliette’s secret and discover a flaw that makes one feel a bit cheated. It’s not so much that the truth is unexpected but rather too expected – a mundane plot device that surely could have been overcome. I wanted to be angry, reject this story, turn my back. But a movie that explores so well and so seriously the relationship between two adult sisters, and reveals so much about the human heart, perhaps can be forgiven for failing to have all the answers.

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