Released this weekend in the UK, I’ve Loved You so long is a French-language film garnering rave reviews for British Actress Kristin Scott Thomas. Some people are even whispering the Oscar word – best supporting actress was, after all, won by French-speaking and singing Marion Cotillard last year for the superlatively French La Vie En Rose.
La Vie En Rose was funny and sad, as ripe and runny as a large slice of unpasteurized Brie. But this film is a very different affair - much cooler and much more cosmopolitan. We first meet a dowdy-looking Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) dragging on a cigarette as she waits for her sister at an airport. Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) is wary and fairly soon, as she drives back to the family home in Eastern France and Juliette meets her brother-in-law for the first time, we begin to realise that Juliette has been in jail for fifteen years for a horrific crime.
I’ve Loved you So Long is directed by a literature professor who lives and teaches in Nancy where the film is set, and there’s a real sense of intelligence behind this film and the way the story is told – which is really just an accumulation of little family melodramatic moments (any family can have) but with this extraordinary back-story looming like a monstrous shadow in the corner. On a human level this film has great universality quite beyond its very middle-class setting; Juliette is the figure some families have, the scapegoat and the villain on whom everything bad is heaped.
At first Juliette seems an almost sinister figure, but after the shock of discovering her crime, we realize that this isn’t a Chabrol film and she isn’t going to murder anyone before she goes to bed one evening after making a cup of chocolat. In fact her story becomes, as bits and pieces make themselves known, almost unbearably poignant and sad. She is like a woman living a posthumous life. She gazes on the warmth of her sister’s family life as if it’s a dangerous illusion. As she looks for and finally finds a job she suffers placidly the contempt of strangers, and it becomes slowly clear just how much she has lost.
That said this is not a depressing film and it does tail off on a note of healing and quiet optimism. A hit at the recent Toronto Film Festival, this is a thoughtful, intelligent piece of French filmmaking.