Secrets, confinement and isolation are the themes explored in this debut feature of French novelist Philippe Claudel.
Secrets, confinement and isolation are the themes explored in this debut feature of French novelist Philippe Claudel. At its heart I have loved you so long is a mystery where the hidden truth gradually becomes less important to the audience than the journey of discovery which is slowly revealed through the extraordinary acting of Kristin Scott Thomas as Juliette Fontaine. Her performance is beautifully complemented by that of Elsa Zylberstein as Juliette’s sister, Léa.
For 15 years Juliette has had no contact with her family. Now she has reappeared to stay with her younger sister whose home is made up of husband, Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), their two adopted Vietnamese daughters and Luc's sickly father.
The opening shot is of a withered woman, deep furrows between her eyebrows, bags beneath her eyes" her lips thin and sad, she sits waiting within an aura of utter flatness. It is a shock to realise that this is the beautiful Scott Thomas. In contrast to Juliette, Lea, coming to pick her up from the airport, is full of animation and hopefulness. As sisters, the two women walk a difficult path as Lea attempts to engage Juliette, and Juliette tries to respond, knowing that she must, but obviously long out of practice and struggling.
Somewhere in the first half of the film we learn that Juliette has been in prison for 15 years, but ‘why’ is a secondary consideration to this filmmaker. Claudel is much more interested in the how and why of Juliette’s recovery from dead woman walking to a slow embrasure of life. And because of an intelligent script and slow, natural and convincing direction, the film watcher is also engrossed.
‘The choice of framing and rhythm of editing was key....... I wanted to remain on faces, and give the actors and actresses the time to express their character's inner self,’ says Claudel. And he has great faces to linger on" we can almost listen to their thoughts. Claudel’s use of drab browns and greys in the clothes of the women emphasises not only the low depression of their starting point but also their similarities as sisters. Changes to small details such as these hints, at larger truths about their lives and relationships.
Against a busy background of work, social engagements and children’s schooling, Lea and Juliette move toward contact. Together they swim at the local pool" huge, circular and ornate, little by little revealing pieces of their lives and their feelings to each other.
Juliet teaches one of her small nieces to play the piano and they sing "A la Claire Fontaine’ (At the Clear Fountain), a well known French lullaby. Its melody is the gentle background of several scenes, and its title is a play on the surname of Juliet. By the end of the film, the relevance of the song’s lyrics "I've loved you so long" is made apparent, so that the watcher finally, is able to accept and embrace all the pain which has been hidden so well and for so long.