Old 02-24-2009, 04:00 PM
Philippe Claudel's I've Loved You So Long

I've Loved You So Long (2008)

Several months before Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Marred," Philippe Claudel's "I've Loved You So Long" was released. Both of these films have incredibly similar plots having to do with family members returning home and having to readjust to society, but both of them take different paths to explore that homecoming.

Juliette Fontaine (Kristin Scott Thomas) has just finished a 15 year prison sentence and is now living with her sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein). Also in the house are Léa' husband, Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), their two daughters, and Luc's father (Jean-Claude Arnaud). We follow Juliette as she tries to adjust to her sister and her family while trying to find a job. Along the way, she even forms relationships with her probation officer and a family friend.

Where this film and "Rachel" go their separate ways is in the way they handle the material. In "Rachel," there is a wedding that ties the whole plot together, confining most of the story to one location, whereas with this film, the main character is free to wonder all over town, which you would think would give her a chance for more interaction with other characters, but it is the screenplay that decides to confine the character to limited interactions.

In this film, we learn about half an hour into it that Juliette went to prison for killing her six year old son, Pierre. This immediately brings up the question: why did she do it? This question is left lingering until the last five minutes of the film. This may seem like a kind of emotional plot element to give the film a powerful ending, but by doing so, the question is just hanging there, sticking out like a sore thumb until we finally get to it.

It seemed really nonsensical to have Juliette keep the reason bottled up all this time and let everyone think that she is a terrible murderer when she arguably had a good reason for doing what she did. "Rachel" handled this in a much better way (I know you're probably getting sick of the comparison, but "Rachel" is an example of how this story was done well). We are told what Rachel did early on, which allows her character to open up and discuss it with everyone else, leading to some great exchanges of dialogue.

Juliette is forced to say nothing about her past as she goes through the whole movie, while not opening up to anyone. Because of this, there is little development in her character. By the time we get to the big reveal at the end, what does it matter? It becomes too late to try and develop the character in the last five minutes. Kristen Scott Thomas, probably most well-known for her Oscar nominated role in "The English Patient," does a good job of bringing the character of Juliette to life, even though her character is heavily restricted by the screenplay.

This is Philippe Claudel's first attempt at directing a film, and it is done rather well. However, it is his third screenplay for a feature film, which makes it surprising that he allows it to meander along through several scenes that add nothing. It felt like a collection of one awkward scene after another as people meet Juliette and wonder where she has been all these years.

The interesting parts of the film were the relationships that she forms with her probation officer, Capitaine Fauré (Frédéric Pierrot), and the family friend, Michel (Laurent Grévill). The scenes where she is having lunch with Fauré show that he obviously has an interest in her, but what happens to him felt a little random as he never truly opened up about his feelings towards her.

Some of the best scenes are when Juliette and Michel are together. He tells us that he used to go to prison to teach, and with that experience, he saw the world differently. Perhaps the reason that the two of them get along so well is that Juliette feels that he is someone that finally understands what she has been through.

It's not that this is a bad film; it's not. It's just that the characters needed to be developed a lot more and the issues needed to be put on the table much earlier in the film to allow that to happen. By waiting until the end, it's not surprising that the characters don't have much to do in the meantime, and because of that, neither does the audience. 2.5/4 stars.
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Old 02-28-2009, 11:35 AM
It deserves a rewatch from me. The first time I watched it I liked it except for the ending which I felt was a cop out and done badly. If I watch the movie again with the whole context in mind though I might like it more.
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Old 02-28-2009, 01:32 PM
another 2.5, man, someone rack these things up!
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Old 02-28-2009, 02:46 PM
It's interesting how you're choosing to ignore everything else and in between the 2.5s. Since "House of Usher," I've given a 3.5, a 4, the 2.5 for this, two 3s, and another 2.5 yesterday. Why the fascination with the 2.5? It's just how certain movies turn out.
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