Il y a longtemps que je t’aime (I Have Loved You So Long) – a review
Il y a longtemps que je t’aime (I Have Loved You So Long) (2008), a film by novelist turned director, Philippe Claudel and starring Kristin Scott Thomas as Juliette Fontaine, a woman who has spent fifteen years in prison. On her release she goes to Lorraine to live with her younger sister, Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) until she can get something sorted out.
She is, perhaps understandably, withdrawn and reticent and does not seek out people or seem interested in deepening the relationship with her sister or her sister’s family. In spite of this attitude she is slowly drawn into the life of the family and into the lives of others in the neighbourhood.
The main interest here is Kristin Scott Thomas, who puts in what is quite probably her finest screen performance. She is one of those actresses who can tell a tale with a wrinkle of her forehead or the blink of an eye. The film itself is, above all, a vehicle for an actress, and Scott Thomas gives it everything she has, though in an understated, minimalist way. She is supported admirably by the direction of Claudel and the other actors, especially Elsa Zylberstein as her sister and Frédéric Pierrot as the policeman. I honestly do not expect to see a better performance from another actress this year, and if she is not recognised in the available honours she will have been robbed.
The film itself is something else. It begins as a moody piece, trembling with tension, and for three quarters of the time it is running I was completely spell-bound by the images and concepts it throws up. With the aid of Scott Thomas we are given a portrait of a woman without any usable inner animation, someone whose soul has been allowed to wither and die. An alienated being who mirrors many of our own individual horrors and suspicions about the true nature of being and identity.
And then, inexplicably, towards the end, Claudel seems to lose his courage, or perhaps find his own feet of clay, and the film dies as he allows predictability to claim the day and seeks out a wholly unworthy ‘closure’ for the Scott Thomas character, and the sense of a happy ending for everyone else involved.
Do see it, though, there is an enormous amount to enjoy. But you might get a better film if you can bear to live without the ending.