I've Loved You So Long Phillippe Claudel

French novelist Philippe Claudel makes an impressive directorial debut with the story of a woman’s struggle to start over in I’ve Loved You So Long.

After 14 years in prison for an inexplicable crime, Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) is sent to re-adjust to life in society with her younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein), a professor at the local university and wife with two children. As Juliette adapts to the tasks of everyday life, she must learn to trust and build relationships after years of emotional isolation from a family that sought to forget she ever existed.

But in her attempts to connect, she faces prejudice and misunderstanding from the people around her, who know just as little as she does about how to handle this delicate situation.

Central to Juliette’s growth is her sister, and the contrast between milk-faced Léa and the solemnly beautiful Juliette complements the compelling relationship between the two women. Zylberstein’s portrayal of Léa’s complex compassion is spot on, and she provides the anchor for this relationship. However, it is Scott Thomas’s stirring performance in the lead role that truly stands out in this remarkable film.

Claudel’s script is simple in its approach and it’s exactly what it should be. For a film that deals with such heavy issues, it is able to remain surprisingly optimistic throughout, tracking both the banal and the meaningful in Juliette’s day-to-day life.

The rhythm and pacing are impeccable, and the well-placed bursts of emotional intensity make the two-hour run-time feel like nothing at all. Taken as a whole, I’ve Loved You So Long is an in-depth look at forgiveness in its many forms. It is a film that shakes you, and will keep you thinking for days. (Mongrel Media)