Saturday, January 09, 2010

I've Loved You So Long

2008, France, directed by Philippe Claudel (Original Title: Il y a longtemps que je t'aime)

Although Kristin Scott-Thomas gets the showier role in Philippe Claudel's first film, as a woman emerging from a 15-year prison sentence, I was equally impressed by Elsa Zylberstein, who plays her younger sister Léa, and who I hadn't seen on screen in some time. Indeed, as good as Scott-Thomas is in conveying a convincing sense of Juliette's weariness and slow adjustment - perhaps never more so than in a short scene where she makes clear that she's not yet ready for a relationship, a note of genuine regret in her voice - in some ways Zylberstein has the more difficult task: she doesn't get to grapple with the more compelling back story but gives a performance equally redolent of her own character's very different experiences of work and family, and of the emotions that she has needed to conceal for nearly half her life.

Although Claudel's film is a little too dependent on coincidence - a character who just happens to have experience with prisoners - and on a resolution that seems rather too neat, he has a strong sense of how to shape his narrative, cutting from scene to scene at often unexpected points, as if he wants to avoid taking us to each scene's obvious conclusion in order to keep the focus on the characters' emotional development rather than their actions. He has a nice sense of framing, too - a close up on the face of a police officer where we become aware there's something more than a bureaucratic transaction occurring, or the careful structuring of two shots in which Juliette reads to Léa's older daughter, capturing a gradually changing relationship, with one character in sharp focus and the other blurred in the background.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States