I’ve Loved You So Long is an intelligent and beautifully crafted portrayal of family love which revolves around two sisters named Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), who reconnect with one another after a prolonged absence.
To say too much about the plot would be to spoil the cleverly constructed narrative which gradually reveals their past and the reasons as to why they have been separated for so long.
Writer and director Philippe Claudel is better known as a novelist in his native France and this also shares many of the pleasures of well written fiction: nuanced characters, slow burning emotions and a real sense of the complexities of human relationships.
This is a film in which a lot of characters spend a lot of time in rooms talking about themselves, but at the same time manages to burrow deeply into the tangled emotions of it’s protagonist.
Much of the power comes from two marvellous central performances and Scott Thomas proves what a captivating screen presence with what is arguably the role of her career so far.
Since coming to prominence in the 90s with films like Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and The English Patient (1996), she seemed to get typecast in one dimensional roles as an upper-crust ice queen whether it was middlebrow disappointments (Random Hearts, The Horse Whisperer) or in period pieces (Up at the Villa, The Other Boleyn Girl).
Her work on stage – notably in Chekhov productions like Three Sisters and The Seagull – demonstrated that she had much more range and ability than some of her screen performances suggested, so it is gratifying to see her grapple with such a juicy part and take it to another level.
Credit must also go to Claudel for the way in which he has captured the small but subtle details that gradually reveal her character: the silence as she sits alone in a cafe, the wetness of her hair or even the way she smokes a cigarette.
Zylberstein, in a more straightforward role, also impresses as th younger sister. It isn’t always easy to portray a humane and loving person on screen without resorting to clunky sentimentality but her she does fine work in creating a character who – like the audience – goes on a journey of discovery about her enigmatic sister.
Although it’s status as a foreign film might be a handicap – especially when faced with heavily marketed awards bait from the likes of Miramax and Fox Searchlight – this richly deserves to be recognised for the sheer excellence of it’s writing and acting.
I’ve Loved You So Long opens in selected UK cinemas from this Friday
> I’ve Loved You So Long at the IMDb
> Trailer for the film
> Kristin Scott Thomas at Wikipedia
> Critical reation to the film from Kim Voynar at Cinematical, Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere, Jonathan Romney in Screen International and Derek Elley in Variety
> Awards buzz for the film at In Contention
> Profile of Scott Thomas in The Times