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'I've Loved You For So Long' poster

"I've Loved You So Long"
("Il y a longtemps que je t'aime")
A film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

I've just finished my review of the season's new James Bond movie, and now I write about a motion picture that's not due to open more widely till early 2009 because of its apparent award potential. The Bond film was rapaciously fast and inconsequential. It's difficult now to downshift all the way from fifth to first gear on seeing, then contemplating "I've Loved You So Long."

If you loved "Quantum of Solace," you might not love "I've Loved You So Long." I think I wrote that the Bond movie is something of a blur. "Loved You" is deliberate and mature. It reveals deeply human moments in ordinary ways. What's going on must be pulled from the performances given by the actors. It requires patience. And I require myself not tell you much about the story.

Philippe Claudel, an award-winning novelist, literature professor at the University of Lyon and now screenwriter and first-time director is responsible for all this attention that must be paid to a film that holds two of the best performances I've seen this year.

Juliette Fontaine (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a divorced woman in her late forties. She's just been released back into society after 15 years in prison. There's no place for her to go except to live with her younger sister, Léa (Elsa Zylberstein). Léa has not seen Juliette for these 15 years or more. The sisters' parents severed their relationship with Juliette because of the crime she committed and told Léa "she no longer had a sister," while not revealing what Juliette did. But Léa remembers being looked after by her older sister when she was a girl. Léa is desperate to reconnect with Juliette just the same. She also wants Juliette to meet her husband (Serge Hazanavicius) and the two little Vietnamese girls the couple has adopted. (The older child seems so real in her scenes.)

Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein
Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein

First you must push through the layers to find what the crime is. Léa and her husband, especially, have misgivings about Juliette, of course. Should they leave the girls alone with Juliette? But Léa is determined to work through to a resolution with Juliette since their father is now deceased and the mother suffers from dementia in a rest home. Léa is a good soul.

Juliette's soul is torn and defeated. The pain in her eyes is vivid. Her body language speaks of rejection and resignation. What is it that this woman did? And what did imprisonment do to her?

After the crime is revealed, it becomes the matter of its motive. On these two counts, not knowing going in is important. So don't look for those spoiler reviews that abound of this film. But onto the actors where "I've Loved You So Long" shines in its painful, deliberate and intelligently literary manner---à la française.

Kristin Scott Thomas, the British expatriate who has lived in France for some years, speaks flawless French and seems almost like someone else as compared to when she's speaking the mother tongue with her clipped English accent. Here she is plain, if you can imagine that of her, not the exquisite, cool adultress in "The English Patient" with Ralph Fiennes back in 1996. "Loved You" is her film, completely. And even though it's in French with easy-to-read English subtitles, it looks as though Thomas may get an Oscar nod of some kind come the first of the year, not to mention a Golden Globe.

But wait. The film wouldn't work without the performance of Elsa Zylberstein. And, like Thomas', it is a superb one, indeed. A curious thing is that Thomas and Zylberstein actually resemble each other. They do look like sisters. Although director Claudel claims that the reason he selected Zylberstein for the role was the way she could combine exuberance with desperation in the part of Léa. For me, it wouldn't seem untoward if Zylberstein gets a Best Supporting Actress nomination out of the deal.

Elsa 	Zylberstein
Elsa Zylberstein

When all of the film is absorbed, "I've Loved You So Long" will offer a great opportunity for you to reflect on what the character of Juliette Fontaine really is---as well as her sister.

Rated PG-13

"I've Loved You So Long" preview

"I've Loved You So Long" official site.

Opens 2/6/2009 at the Circle Cinema.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2008, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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