(function() { var c = -->

04 January 2023

Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (2008)

I’ve Loved You So Long
Directed by: Philippe Claudel
Music: Jean Louis Aubert
Starring: Kristin Scott-Thomas
Elysa Zylberstein
Serge Hazanavicius
Frédéric Pierrot
Laurent Gréville
Jean-Paul Arnaud

What happens when you come out of prison after 15 years? The world outside has changed while you were inside. You have changed while you were inside. And you no longer know the people you were the closest to, once. Can they trust you? More importantly, can you trust them? 

 When you first see Juliette Fontaine (Kristin Scott-Thomas), you don’t know any of that, of course. She’s a dowdy, middle-aged woman, smoking incessantly and with a certain nervous energy that seems to roil under the surface. Meeting her is Léa (Elysa Zylberstein), her much younger sister, and the meeting between the siblings is both awkward and moving.

Léa is clearly striving to reach out to her sister, but the latter’s almost-sullen silence is not very welcoming. But she persists… telling her sister that she had moved to Nancy in eastern France for her doctorate, met her husband, Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) while at college, had married him and settled there.

Juliette is wary of people; she has to get used to being free again. There is a slight resentment of her sister, who she feels has chosen to forget her. Yet, she cannot help but warm to Léa, who is obviously happy to have her live with her.

Not so Luc who, it is clear is not very happy with Juliette’s presence in his house – after all what does Léa know about her sister? Of what she did? Of why she did what she did? Léa doesn’t care – Juliette is her sister, but they have been separated for so long, and it is not something she can bring up all at once.

Léa and Luc have two daughters who are Vietnamese. Léa didn’t want to have her own babies, she confesses and Juliette becomes prickly – it’s because of her? It is only when she is with Luc’s father, Papy Paul (Jean-Claude Arnaud) that Juliette is comfortable – a stroke survivor, he cannot speak, and spends his days reading in his room.

Her past is the elephant in the room. Her sister may tiptoe around the question, but Juliette must evade questions from her little inquisitive niece and keep a studied silence amongst her sister’s friends. Until, one day, she’s forced to state the bald truth.

It is only with her probation officer, Captain Fauvré (Frédéric Pierrot) that Juliette can actually say the word ‘prison’ out loud. He understands, as no one else, what 15 years in prison can do to the human soul. Her welfare officer is kind as well, and tries hard to get Juliette reintegrated – but her kindness pricks Juliette who seems to shun any attempt from anyone to be kind.

Léa’s colleague, Michel (Laurent Gréville), is another person who can empathise, though Juliette is not quite ready to let her guard down completely. But she can speak to him as she cannot to the others, including her own sister. For Michel had spent years teaching in prisons and knows that the inmates could be him; he could be them.

Slowly, she finds herself being accepted, and accepting.

Il y a longtemps que je t'aime is novelist Phillip Claudel’s debut feature film. In it, he creates a female character whom you are not sure you should sympathize with. For Juliette herself does not ask for sympathy. Nor does she reciprocate when warmth is offered – and it is, several times, from several people. Is she the monster her parents thought her, so much so they forbade their younger daughter from even thinking about her adored elder sister? Is she evil, as Luc thinks her, afraid of what she might do to his daughters? Or is she a mystery, as Léa’s and Luc’s friend, insists as he tries to decode who she is and what she is hiding? Kristin Scott-Thomas plays Juliette with a searing honesty that precludes any drama, let alone melodrama, and a brittle calm that seems about to shatter into a million pieces. 

Just watch her in the scene where she finally meets the mother who had disowned her so many years ago, so much so that when they moved, her parents had let it be known that they had only one child. Hers is a bravura performance of raw stillness that combines both an unforgettable grief and searing anger, both of which only break out in an explosive show of emotion at the climax of the film.

Complementing her is Elysa Zylberstein, and not just in the striking similarity in their facial features that makes it believable that they could be siblings. She turns in a quieter performance but one that is charming in its ability to be many things to many people. 

She’s the responsible daughter, the loving sister, the empathetic teacher… so much so, she doesn’t realise just how much she’s being pulled in different directions. Her love for her sister is made more complicated by the constant thought of just what her sister did, and why she did such a horrendous deed – she doesn’t know anything but the barest of details because her parents not only stop her from writing to her older sister, but insist that she stop thinking about her. She doesn’t exist for the parents any longer, and therefore, she must not exist for Léa either. The struggle, not only to appear ‘normal’ for her children’s sake, but also to wrap her sister in her love so she can forget the previous decade and a half, finally breaks her in a stunning scene with her students. Her fury comes out of seemingly nowhere, but is a manifestation of her inability to untangle her mixed feelings towards her sister and the emotional chaos that follows in her wake.

Il y a longtemps que je t'aime is a film about living pain; of the rawness of unforgettable memories; of the freedom to acknowledge and come to terms with one’s actions, while others around you cannot. It’s about how one’s actions creates dysfunction that affects families and how, through it all, they can still love you and hold you dear. For his first feature, Claudel has succeeded in constructing an intricate yet understated relationship drama that moves you.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Back to TOP