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aka - Il y a Longtemps Que Je T'aime
France 2008
Directed by
Philippe Claudel
115 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

I've Loved You So Long

Synopsis; After fifteen years in prison, Juliette Fontaine (Kirstin Scott Thomas) is coming home to live with her younger sister, Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), Lea's husband, Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) and their two adopted children.

I've Loved You So Long is distinguished by an original idea and strong lead performances but sags under the weight of a profusion of narrative detail and unimaginatively conventional and sometimes clumsy direction. The result is film that engages our interest but does not realize its affective potential. Director Claudel is an established novelist making his debut as a film-maker and in the latter department his lack of experience shows.

The strengths and weaknesses of the film are encapsulated in the opening scene of the film in which we see a haggard, distant Juliette smoking cigarettes and waiting in an airport lounge whilst an animated Lea runs to meet her. Thus the film’s core character dynamic is well established but then Claudel has Lea stand behind Juliette who presumably is so mentally preoccupied as not to hear her sister’s approach. He holds this for a few second then has Juliette turn to Lea and smile wanly, too clearly signalling that we are about to witness the story of Juliette’s pain. There are other similarly over-stated and sometimes, as in the case of the reunion between Juliette and her mother, bungled moments, the effect of which is to disengage us from the drama and make us aware of the mechanics of its fabrication.  Thus, what should have been moments that moved us emotionally remain as tokens of emotions rather than their tangible manifestations and this, despite its powerful core concept, limits the film.

Its other ill-judged aspect is that it there are simply too many characters and too many sub-plots tangential to the main thrust of the film. Perhaps from a novelistic point of this approach helps to create a sense of the warp and woof of  real  life but here it only serves to distract our attention from Juliette’s story and unnecessarily prolong the film.  Weekends in the countryside, visits to art galleries and heated discussions of Rohmer and Dostoevsky are typical of innumerable French films (and have their Anglo-American counterpart in Woody Allen movies) and there was no need to re-visit them here.  It is worth imagining what a more down-to-earth director such as Robert Guédiguian would have done with this material.  

Kirstin Scott Thomas, an English-born actress who has lived much of her life in France, is best-known for playing photogenically elegant, well-to-do support characters and here in here first substantial lead role she plays very much against type. It is a performance that she deserves to be proud of as she imbues Juliette, as a woman damaged by life but with a sense of stoical independence, with great believability. Although Juliette is the principal focal point of the film, Elsa Zylberstein is equally good as her anxious, if lovingly supportive, sister.

It is to Claudel’s credit that he has created in Lea and Juliette characters that we do want to find out about and equally to the credit of Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein that they inhabit them so well. Whilst it is worth seeing the film for these qualities, had he focussed more on them with a sparer narrative and a less conventional treatment, I've Loved You So Long would have been all the better for it.






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