I’ve Loved You So Long
There has been a large proliferation of films recently that have dealt with the loss and subject trauma resulting in a lost child, a subject both rife with potential but executed to varying and rather extreme degrees. In Rachel Getting Married, the death of a brother haunts all involved and overshadows the characters but never detracts from the overall pathos of the film, whereas The Changeling, despite it’s promising nature (Clint Eastwood as director and Angelina Jolie starring) degenerates quickly into the farcical, abandoning any pretense of subtlety.
I’ve Loved You So Long, the first directorial and written outing of Frenchman Phillipe Claudel, deals with the murder of a six year old boy roughly 15 years before the beginning of the film.
The interesting part about this however, is that the murderer in question is Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas), his mother and central protagonist of the piece. After serving her sentence, she returns to stay with her younger sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), her doting husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) and their two adoptive daughters.
Juliette floats through their house and circle of friends in a semi-catatonic state, rarely speaking and unnerving all around her. Just like the audience, all in her wake find themselves asking how has it affected her, is she a loving mother, a madwoman or worse, completely separate from reality?
The tone of the film, supported by the music would suggest something rather misleading, creating an atmosphere of extreme foreboding that never seems truly warranted. What serves to only complicate matters further, is the large degree of sentimentality injected into the film, something that could easily lead to needless melodrama but Claudel juggles both moments of sheer sincerity and ominous fadings to black screens between a vigour rarely seen.
Acting is perhaps the main source of balance here, with Scott Thomas’ Juliette maintaining a poise that is equal parts terrifying and heartfelt. Throughout we sympathize with her sister’s worry for bringing her into her home and children’s lives but also maintain an interest in Juliette that would otherwise be lost as she has an elicit encounter with a bar patron and yet recoil from the most well meaning of gestures from those close to her. This is a story of redemption but for whatever reason, neither the cast or director want it to be easy, again avoiding unnecessary impiety and melodrama.
Juliette is alive, she is here but it is only through each conversation and each day that she can come to terms with her actions, never visibly forgiving herself but learning that things must progress. Such subtlety could prove to be its own downfall in so far as it could prove alienating to an audience often kept at arms length from the truth but in moments like where Lea releases her anger upon a class of students who she believes to be taking books far too literally, we are able to vent any frustrations we ourselves have at the methodical progress of the action.
Sadly however, this is also a disappointment, as Claudel goes to great lengths to show that it was literature that kept Juliette at some degree of peace in prison and the arts play a part in her subsequent recovery, it damages any substantive argument for its transformative power. Perhaps he meant it in such a way, but to me it seemed only to serve as a contradiction.
Unfortunately, the ending of the piece is one of its weakest points, after waiting and building up to a revelation thematically for so long, the actual facts seem nothing if not lost, but Scott Thomas regains control somewhat, delivering an emotional conclusion stronger than the facts gleamed. Inevitably, the most important message in all of this is that the subjective human experience is often greater in significance than the details.