a review of
I’ve Loved You So Long (English Title)
Written and Directed by Philippe Claudele
Starring Kristin Scott Thomas
When the viewer begins watching this movie, he is dropped in at the present moment, not knowing anything that has come before. There is no background buildup on the characters, no montage of flashbacks, no text introduction. There is only now, and we can only watch and wonder what the whole story is. This puts us in a state similar to one of the lead characters, Lea. Lea was still young when her older sister Juliette was sent away from her, and she only has some of the information. Their parents told Lea that Juliette no longer existed, she was introduced as an only child. But even though Lea doesn’t remember everything and certain details were kept from her, she has never stopped thinking about her sister. The movie picks up with Lea picking Juliette up at the airport. We get bits and pieces of information as they are dropped, when one character explains something to another, we learn some of what is in that characters head of past events. Things are often told to us second hand rather than from the character they concern.
We are never in any of the characters heads, we watch whatever the camera shows us, voyeurs on private family moments. But the camera shows us much– a tightening of a fist, a jerk upwards of a lip, the slight cringe when an uncomfortable topic is brought up. Close up, off center, the film uses camera angles to highlight the subtle. It is several minutes into the film before any character even speaks– an exchange of smiles, kisses on the cheeks, one woman picking up anothers luggage, going to the car. But the body language tells us a lot. It has too– most of the characters are silent, either self imposed or inflicted. One character has lost the ability to speak after a stroke and communicates by writing when he is not spending his days reading books, another character who relates to the world through books never talks about his dead wife, we only get hearsay, Juliette has chosen to be silent about her situation because she saw the futility of talking– she says that to try to explain would be to make excuses, and there is no excuse. The only person who really is free with his words, perhaps inappropriately so, telling details of his personal life to any one who will listen, kills himself. Word are often held back, so the physical is very important.
As the movie goes on, the physical appearance of Juliette changes as she begins to live again. She is like a flower coming to life after a long winter, in the beginning it is all hunched shoulders and long baggy clothes that cover up everything. It is frowns and long stares into the silence. But Juliette begins to brighten and we can see the vibrant woman she once was and wonder at how she lost herself. When Juliette’s former profession is revealed, I guessed the circumstances of the movie’s main uncertainty, but it was worth it to watch the Lea discovering it for herself. The exchange between the sisters when this knowledge is revealed is full of emotion. The entire movie is very emotional– playing the whole range from tragedy to comedy as French movies seem to be expert in. One scene in particular, when Juliette is reunited with the mother, who is now suffering from later stages of alhzheimers, who never remembers Lea anymore, who had chosen to forget Juliette when she was still of a rigth mind, who recognizes Julliette now, but as a little girl. The tension and emotion in that scene is so powerful that it is almost unbearable. A way to describe, perhaps, the whole movie. So powerful it is almost unbearable, but worth it to watch.