'I've Loved You So Long': In Extremis, Sisters Still

Kristin Scott Thomas as Juliette Fontaine and Elsa Zylberstein as Lea. i i

A bond that holds? Sisters Lea (Elsa Zylberstein, left) and Juliette Fontaine (Kristin Scott Thomas) reunite after being parted for 15 years. Thierry Valletoux/Sony Pictures Classics hide caption

itoggle caption Thierry Valletoux/Sony Pictures Classics
Kristin Scott Thomas as Juliette Fontaine and Elsa Zylberstein as Lea.

A bond that holds? Sisters Lea (Elsa Zylberstein, left) and Juliette Fontaine (Kristin Scott Thomas) reunite after being parted for 15 years.

Thierry Valletoux/Sony Pictures Classics

I've Loved You So Long

  • Director: Philippe Claudel
  • Genre: Foreign, Drama
  • Running Time: 110 minutes

Rated PG-13 for thematic material and smoking.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Laurent Grevill i i

Bruised by her initial return to a society that can't forgive her past, Juliette is eventually befriended by her sister's colleague Michel (Laurent Grevill). Thierry Valletoux/Sony Pictures Classics hide caption

itoggle caption Thierry Valletoux/Sony Pictures Classics
Kristin Scott Thomas and Laurent Grevill

Bruised by her initial return to a society that can't forgive her past, Juliette is eventually befriended by her sister's colleague Michel (Laurent Grevill).

Thierry Valletoux/Sony Pictures Classics

It may seem early for Oscar buzz, but in Hollywood they're already talking about Kristin Scott Thomas for a possible Best Actress nomination — for a performance in French.

That's partly because I've Loved You So Long is a picture of a sort American moviemakers don't make anymore, a high-quality adult melodrama that's conventional in technique but not story. It develops slowly, because it's all about character — about, if you really want to get down to it, the reclamation of a soul.

When you're doing a film like this, you want the best acting you can get, and Scott Thomas delivers as the shattered Juliette. Gaunt, plain and colorless, Juliette is a truly damaged person, a ghost in human form who is in permanent despair.

Her sister Lea, played by Elsa Zylberstein, is her complete opposite, a person willing to do whatever it takes to make things go smoothly. The two sisters haven't seen each other in 15 years because Juliette has been in prison for an unspeakable crime. Now Lea desperately wants to re-establish contact. As for what Juliette wants, that is more difficult to know.

Because no one else will have her, Juliette has come to live with her sister. But it is not at all certain how much she really wants to rejoin a society that is quick to hold her in contempt.

The bilingual Scott Thomas is best known to domestic audiences for her Oscar-nominated performance in The English Patient. Her characters have always given off a kind of imperturbable confidence, but as directed by Philippe Claudel, her Juliette is nothing like that — nothing like that at all.

With a chip on her shoulder about how the world reacts to her, Juliette is in no hurry to get close to anyone, not even the sister who is almost frantic for that intimacy. Even as her capacity for feeling seems to be returning, it is not clear that it will take root and grow.

With strong performances and sensitive direction, I've Loved You So Long makes us grateful to have an emotional story we can sink our teeth into and enjoy.

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