Friday, March 06, 2009

ON DVD: I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG

Over a minimal opening credit sequence, the jangling sound of keys unlocking a prison cell plays overtop. These audible cues are intercut with images of Juliette (Kristen Scott Thomas) sitting in an airport cafe, indirectly informing us that she was the one who experienced that freedom from those steel bar doors; perhaps Juliette is even recalling these sounds as she daydreams on her cigarette. Next, as the plucking strings come in, Juliette flits her eyes-upward, implying a spiritual connection of some sort. Cut to the title card "I've Loved You So Long" (or, Il Y A Longtemps Que Je T'aime) hitting the screen, instantly establishing sympathy for this troubled protagonist.

Even if you don't know the gist of I've Loved You So Long prior to seeing it, writer/director Philipe Claudel wastes little time laying things out for the viewer. Juliette was in prison for fifteen years after being convicted of the murder of her six-year old son. Nobody knows why she killed him. Not her sister, not her parents, not even her lawyer. We learn from a social worker that Juliette remained silent during the trial. This dangling secret and overhanging mystery of how?, when?, where?, and - most importantly -why? aren't resolved until the film's final five minutes, making I've Loved You So Long a sort of bizarre cliffhanger/character study that hinges on... the killing of a child???

Yes. That's a pretty twisted hook for an art house entertainment film to run on, but Claudel isn't a director with cruel intentions, just one with poor judgment and a misguided approach to exploring social ethics. Once we've been made aware of Juliette's crime, Claudel intentionally places her in situations that put us on edge: alone in a room with her six-year old niece (where she verbally loses her temper over a poem); sitting next to her niece at the piano, secretly teaching her how to play; hovering over her niece after she's fallen asleep. No, Claudel doesn't lay on a The Hand that Rocks The Cradle suspense soundtrack in order to manipulate, but the intention is clear. Also, the fact that Kristen Scott Thomas plays the role with a modest and mostly zipped-mouth straight face for 117 minutes just adds to the anxiety.

For her part, Thomas does a fine job of portraying a woman that's held her tongue for fifteen years on the facts about her sons death. But, again, - and this isn't Thomas' fault - I'm left scratching heads (my own, my cats', and anyone elses head nearby...) over why this performance gets lauded and adorned with nominations while other 2008 performances by Juliette Binoche, Melonie Diaz, and Amy Poehler continually got overlooked. I know, I know, painting bags under your eyes and staring out a window is a quick route to recognition, but come on.... yeah, so what if I'm digressing... suck it!...

The in-a-nutshell conceit that Claudel plays with in I've Loved You So Long is yet another twig on the "one shouldn't judge a book by it's cover" (or, an ex-convict by her sentence) morality branch. That's not such a bad social tenet to be reminded of, but Claudel's lunge for humanism feels out-of-reach when the ball finally drops and we learn of the reasons behind the death of Juliette's son. Thankfully, Claudel avoids lingering on any Million Dollar Baby brow-beating weepiness, but the final sister vs. sister showdown lacks the passion one would expect after fifteen years of secrecy and not knowing get smashed in an instant (not to mention the films' two hours of dramatic build-up).

I've Loved You So Long isn't so bad. The performances by the variety of professional and established foreign actors make the film much more watchable than it deserves to be, but like so much Oscar season fare, "over-hyped mediocrity" (ILYSL is way more of a minor work than critics will lead you to believe) again feels like the appropriate category to file one of 2008's spotlight movies in as the meat of Movie Year 2009 starts to show.



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ONE FINAL, SILLY SIDE NOTE:

Tonight, while eating pizza, I re-watched the first thirty minutes of I've Loved You So Long with dubbed audio instead of subtitles. I did it just for kicks, but man-oh-man did it ever remind me of the barriers which are raised when someone watches a foreign film with dubbed audio. So, so much is lost in the verbal intonations if you don't use subtitles.

Kristen Scott Thomas did Juliette's overdubs, but the rest of the characters sound like hack line readers without a days worth of acting instincts. I can't imagine Philipe Claudel being fine with this. Do directors have any say on who does the dubbing for DVDs???

Hmm... anyway... just had to get that out.

9 comments:

Rick Olson said...

Do directors have any say on who does the dubbing for DVDs???

probably depends on the contract.

I hate dubbed foreign films. I always think of Japanese monster movies, whose hilariously-bad dubbing was one of the major reasons to watch them, or the American movies that play on the Mexican channels with the wonderfully macho voices. I bet you get a lot of those down there, Fox.

Jason Bellamy said...

I think this film is about more than "one shouldn't judge a book by its cover." While others (like her sister) might be more sympathetic or understanding of Juliette upon hearing the circumstances of the killing, the core of the film for me is that Juliette thinks she's done something that's unforgivable even if she can't fathom having not done it. She's in a prison of her own creation. At the beginning of the film, there is no relief for her over being let out of prison. She doesn't plan to release herself from her self-imposed life sentence. But then, over time, she learns to let herself live again.

I think Kristin Scott Thomas is terrific in this metamorphosis (though it sure takes a while to crack the hard surface, I agree), but I admit that I love her in just about anything. This is a "minor" film, yes, but a well done minor film.

If it has been "over-hyped," I'd blame that on two things: 1) a crappy 2008 year in film; 2) the fact that this is one of those small films with nothing 'wrong' with it that produces 4-star reviews that misleadingly suggest a level of epic/Oscar greatness that it doesn't attempt to reach. But that's not the fault of the film. It sets the bar and it meets it.

Fox said...

Rick-

Yes, we get lots of classic American films with Spanish on top of them. Awhile ago, Telemundo was playing E.T. and my wife and I watched 10 minutes of it... at first b/c it was funny to hear latino/latina voices for Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore, but then we just kept watching b/c E.T. is awesome in any language!

Fox said...

the core of the film for me is that Juliette thinks she's done something that's unforgivable even if she can't fathom having not done it.

Jason-

I'd agree with that, but I don't think that's so clear until the final five minutes. Until that point, I felt Chaubel was leading us through a maze of mild suspense, making us wait to place our final judgments on Juliette until the big reveal.

The thing is, I had already decided what I thought of Juliette relative to what was going to be revealed. As it happens, I ended up with sympathy for the character, but had she suffered from some post-partum madwoman disorder, then I was already ready to call her scum.

She's in a prison of her own creation.

This is a minor thing, but I wanted to ask for your thoughts on a specific moment.

Rememeber the scene when Juliette is describing the walk she took in the courtyard at the prison to the parole officer? Before that, did she mention something about walking a similar pattern (a triangle of some kind?) at home? I meant to check that part again, but I mailed it back to Netflix this morning.

Anyways, if she was referring to a prison-type environment at home, that seemed odd to me, b/c she later lets us believe that she was happy in her life before her sons death.

And, lastly, I like Kristen Scott Thomas too. I saw Confessions of a Shopaholic tonight, and even though she has a minor role, she is excellent in it... and very funny.

Jason Bellamy said...

I'd agree with that, but I don't think that's so clear until the final five minutes. Until that point, I felt Chaubel was leading us through a maze of mild suspense, making us wait to place our final judgments on Juliette until the big reveal.

I don't argue that suspense is involved. We do want to know what happened and why. But the film hit me differently: As it unfolded I presumed that she was guilty and that it was complicated and I left it at that. From there, without knowing the why, I still saw it as a film where she is in a prison of her own creation. That's just how it hit me.

As for the triangle: I remember the comment about walking in the yard at the prison. I don't remember her saying that about her home life. But I saw the film in the theater, so I might be forgetting.

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strike said...

I’ve Loved You So Long is a mysterious and dramatic directed by Philippe Claudel, about a woman who struggles to rebuild her relation with her estranged sister after 15 years of imprisonment. Juliette recently released after spending 15 years behind bars, has no place to go. Then ,she goes to her younger sister, Léa, But Lea’s husband, Luc is not happy with the arrangement .Really very interesting movie....i watch I’ve Loved You So Long moviefrom this website....

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