Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I've Loved You So Long (2008)

(Il y a longtemps que je t'aime, directed by Philippe Claudel, France, Germany).

The best performance in a film by an actress was not nominated for an Oscar in 2009, but should have been. In a film career playing upper crustic British ladies with couture and hauteur to match, Kirstin Scott Thomas turned 360 degrees and gives an emotional slow-burn performance as an ex-convict reuniting with her sister after an absence of fifteen years.

At first glance, meeting her sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) in the airport from England, Juliette is emotionally detached, oddly cool. Lea is also preoccupied with her two adopted Vietnamese daughters and her rather boorish academic husband Luc (Serge Havanacius), as Lea proclaims they are "a real Bennetton family". In the first part of the film, Juliette is rather remote, nearly one of the walking wounded and Scott Thomas plays her with certain brusque touches, shielding her pain until she seems to reawaken from her burnt out state at a party with Lea and Luc's friends.

At the center of the film's plot is the desire for the two sisters to reconnect, to take up broken bonds of family ties after too long of an absence. Juliette does not try to hide why she was in prison and tries to pick up her life while her past continually keeps her back emotionally and behaviorally. When she eventually decides to strike out on her own, after a few false starts (sleeping with a dull macho man, getting thrown out of a job interview by her honesty), she seems to reawaken, to become a full person instead of maintaining the facade of "L'Absente" - the absent one (as she was called in prison).

Her transition is rather moving even though there is an eleventh-hour confrontation in the film between the sisters over why she was in prison. Claudel seems to not know where to go in terms of concluding scenes or of ending this movie. While "I've Loved You So Long" is not exactly a masterpiece, it is an emotionally bare portrait of a woman trying to come to grips with her life and attempt to move on. Kirstin Scott Thomas gives a remarkably poignant and ultimately winning performance and is the real reason to see this film.