Friday, March 13, 2009


What lies beneath

By Edward Copeland
Juliette Fontaine would make a great poker player, because her face betrays nothing of what's going on inside her head. One could take it as serenity, if you didn't know that she'd just been released from prison after 15 years. If you knew why she'd been jailed, it could look to you to be a veneer of coldness belonging to a monster. As played superbly by Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Loved You So Long, Juliette doesn't think she owes anyone anything, but her younger sister Lea (the wonderful Elsa Zylberstein) loves her no matter what she did or why she did it.

Thomas received a good deal of Oscar buzz and a Golden Globe nomination for her work in Philippe Claudel's film, but missed the Oscar cut and it's a damn shame. Maybe the British actress should have turned to French films earlier because I've Loved You So Much may well be her career best.

The film itself is pretty good as well, but Zylberstein shouldn't be forgotten. Her performance could have been coated in syrup, but she perfectly modulates a younger sister's idolization clashing against her duties as a harried working mom and a rightfully concerned husband, uncomfortable with an ex-convict living under his roof.

As I continue to catch up with 2008 films I missed, I'm beginning to wonder how many slots on my top 10 list will end up being occupied by foreign language films because the best last year sure seemed to come in greater numbers from overseas than the U.S.

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I had mixed feelings about this one - I found it a bit on the drab side. I understand the impulse not to mine this type of subject matter for just have to be careful not to skimp on the drama in the process. Maybe because the approach was so understated, the final revelation felt anticlimatic (and a little too easy). I'm fine with the type of films that wander into that whole long-suffering-maternal-self-sacifice territory (Stella Dallas-Madelon Claudet country, if you will) - it just seemed to me that this wasn't that type of film, so I was a little bewildered by how it wound up settling for the convential sob story ending. I didn't expect her to turn out to be Susan Smith. I just wasn't expecting Jane Wyman with a halo.

That said, I was impressed by the restraint and economy of Scott Thomas' work - even though there happened to be five other performances by lead actresses I preferred in 2008, she certainly deserved all the praise she received (and was eminently more deserving of a nomination than some of the ladies who actually were nominated). Zylberstein didn't make much of an impression on me, but that's not a slight on her acting - ultimately, I just didn't find the character very interesting.

And you're right...for the most part, foreign product has been outshining domestic. Sadly, that's been the theme of the last decade.
This film worked quietly on me. I was going along fine, satisfied with the plot mechanics, and then director Claudel chooses to present the climactic argument between the two sisters as something truly bracing. That quick open from black in mid-argument is shocking, that's for sure... and it totally took me by surprise and won me over.
I loved this film, Edward. It's always a joy to catch up on films of yesteryear through these short reviews of yours. Thanks.
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