I’ve Loved you for so Long is not a movie for everyone. As has been noted perhaps a billion times, we live in a culture with mounting pressure for quick payoffs, and our attention spans have shrunk. This brilliant film takes its time. It builds up story elements slowly, develops its characters and their relationships with great care, nuance and subtlety, and never hits you over the head with messages or symbols or histrionics. It treats you like an adult. The subject matter could easily call for endless scene chewing and heightened melodrama, but the director, Phillippe Claudel (a novelist and professor of Literature at the University of Nancy), chooses a different path.
Kristin Scott Thomas plays Juliette Fontaine, a woman with a tragic, terrible secret, just released from prison. Her sister Lea, played by Elsa Zylberstein, welcomes her into her home to help her get back on her feet. Elsa is married to Luc (played by Serge Hazanavicius), and they have two adopted daughters. Much of the film time is spent on the evolution of Juliette’s place in that home and the renewal of the relationship between the sisters. It is profoundly moving in several sections, and all the more effective because the director lets the audience piece things together. We learn about her 15 year stay in prison gradually, but we don’t discover why she did what she did until the end of the film. This contributes to a deep-seeded dramatic tension and anxiety throughout the movie. The director also chooses a very effective method of exposition, amplifying Juliette’s tragic experience through the life stories of others, especially her parole officer and a colleague of Lea’s. By talking about themselves, we learn more about Juliette, whose silence speaks proverbial volumes.
Kristin Scott Thomas’s performance is Oscar worthy. With few words and gestures, she is able to convey a sense of deeply authentic, actualized, repressed inner turmoil, fear, rage and guilt. Weary courage as well. Her secret lifts her, sinks her, shakes her core, but drives her on. Elsa Zylberstein, as Lea, exudes fragility, determination, and selfless love. She is Juliette’s rock, even though she is often confused about her older sister’s life and why the tragedy occurred. Their relationship is the heart of the movie. Their discoveries drive it.
Below is the trailer for the film. While it gives some indication of general story lines, it can not possibly convey how the movie evolves over time. It can not begin to show what lies beneath the surface. Most of I’ve Loved you for so Long is below that surface.