I've Loved You So Long (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)

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film_loved_sm.jpgUnfortunately, it's only Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein who are worthy of the praise the film seems to be getting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding a new home and a career resurgence in France, Kristin Scott Thomas delivers her finest performance in I've Loved You So Long as Juliette Fontaine, a woman just released from prison after murdering her young son. Like almost all the great Oscar-winning or -nominated performances (hers is almost a guarantee for this year), Scott Thomas outshines the entire film, following along with first-time writer/director Philippe Claudel through even the lamest of moments. Matching her is Elsa Zylberstein (Metroland, La Petite Jérusalem) as her younger sister Léa, who takes Juliette into her home following her release. Like the Rosemarie DeWitt to Anne Hathaway of Rachel Getting Married, Zylberstein is given the less showy role, handling it with fine delicacy and poise.

Unfortunately, it's only Scott Thomas and Zylberstein who are worthy of the praise the film seems to be getting. I've Loved You So Long suffers most from Claudel's pen. Like Léa, he too comes from a literary background as a published novelist and professor. From this, he never allows for a single moment here to exist without a counter, without later significance, leaving the film trapped inside its own frame. With the film trapping itself, Claudel alleviates any speculation that Juliette, who spends most of the film cold and silent about the matter, might not come clean about the murder, making the journey feel less like a meditation on loss than a race to the finish line. And as you might imagine, said finish line is adorned with its share of hankies.

It isn't just Claudel's literary background that muddles the film, but also the occasional cinematic gesture that rings false. I've Loved You So Long is the sort of film where characters observe paintings at a museum, only to be surprised by a suitor who happens to know the origin and inspiration of the oeuvre in question. It's the sort of film where a character rants about a famous piece of literature, almost unconscious to the similarities it holds to the drama at hand. Usually, this method is reserved for teen flicks where a classroom reading of Shakespeare is meant to provide depth to its core romance. Here, Léa's job as professor makes an easy case for her to attack a student for having no frame of reference for murder in the works of Dostoyevsky. None of these falsehoods truly live up to the dreadful scene in which a drunken asshole, who's never really introduced and never shows up afterward, takes a break from obsessing over Eric Rohmer to badger Juliette about her whereabouts over the past 15 years.

I've Loved You So Long teases the audience with richer meaning. Is the film going where I think it is, or is it actually stopping to reflect on the effects of Juliette's secret on the lives of Léa's painfully curious young daughters? Unfortunately, it's always going where you think, and where you think is always the easiest solution. In many ways, I've Loved You So Long is Boy A for the Oscar crowd, replacing the grittiness and complexity of John Crowley's lesser-seen film with containment and weepy justification. Without the actresses, who manage to maintain class and dignity through Claudel's blunders, I've Loved You So Long would have caved in on itself. It's the sort of film people who don't know much about French cinema would proclaim as the finest the country has to offer. If you're feeling the same way, just direct yourself to The Piano Teacher and discover what you've been missing. | Joe Bowman

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