4 Stars Movies

Kristin Scott Thomas is unshowy but brilliant in Philippe Claudel’s I’ve Loved You So Long

Writer / director Philippe Claudel’s I’ve Loved You So Long is a textbook exercise in the dramatic withholding of narrative information. Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) is released from prison after serving 15 years for an unspecified crime, and is unwillingly housed with her sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein). Léa is initially her only ally, and her husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) is distrustful for what turns out to be very good reason. Léa and Luc have adopted two children (a big clue to the central mystery of the movie), including their precocious older daughter P’tit Lys (Lise Ségur, a rare movie tyke that is actually endearing). As part of her probation, Juliette is required to sign in weekly with a lonely cop (Frédéric Pierrot) with even more psychological issues than she. The slow leak of information ramps up the drama, but we’re told just enough to see that the movie is actually about Juliette’s gradual, sometimes painful reentry into life, not her mysterious crime.

Kristen Scott Thomas in I've Loved You So Long
Kristen Scott Thomas in I’ve Loved You So Long

Thomas’s unshowy performance is acting of the highest degree. The British already proved her fluency in French in Tell No One, although a line of dialogue here explains away her accent. She doesn’t distract by inviting the audience to be constantly impressed at how talented she is. But that said, there were a few moments where I marveled at the complex emotions she conveyed. Two scenes in particular stand out: Juliette almost physically recoils when introduced to Léa’s colleague Michel (Laurent Grévill) and when reunited with her estranged mother. Also watch for the almost indescribably complex expression that plays across her face when she meets a sleazy bloke in a pub shortly after her release.

Kristen Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein in I've Loved You So Long
Kristen Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein in I’ve Loved You So Long

Only two factors kept me from considering the movie more highly. There’s a seemingly extraneous and unresolved subplot about Léa ignoring a student who appears to have a crush on her, and claims he’s a subject of prejudice. Was the point merely that Léa is an attractive, sympathetic person? Secondly, the movie arguably descends into talky melodrama at the very end; without revealing too much, we learn the truth about what motivated Juliette’s crime, and why she stubbornly kept her silence for so long.

3 Stars Movies

Le fugitif: Guillaume Canet’s Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One)

Tell No One enjoyed a surprisingly wide US theatrical release for a French film without huge English-speaking stars (except for Englishwoman Kristin Scott Thomas, perfectly fluent in French). Roger Ebert rightly compared the tightly crafted thriller with The Fugitive, placing it squarely in Hitchcockian wrong-man-accused territory.

Pediatrician Alex Beck (François Cluzet) finds himself the prime suspect of his wife’s murder, eight years prior. This being a French film, the fortysomething Beck was married to the utterly gorgeous younger Margot (Marie-Josee Croze, great in Julien Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). One might accept this as a given premise of the story, for sometimes old coots really do bag hot young wives, had the film not ruined it by demonstrating via flashback that the characters are supposed to be the same age.

Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One)
Run Beck Run

I found Tell No One more focused and engaging before the conspiracy widens to an almost absurd degree, enveloping even a Senator in a vast cover-up. I will admit to being confused at times; to grasp the details and convoluted timeline, viewers will have to remember character names, not faces, as the chronology of some key plot points are conveyed via exposition (that is, told, not shown).

Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One)
Funny how bad things happen to people who skinny dip in movies…

Hints of the recent race/class tensions in France are built into the plot: Beck’s equanimity as a pediatrician earned the trust of some less privileged thugs on the wrong side of the law. That they will aid him when no one else will ironically demonstrates his essential goodness.