Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (2008)

I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (Il y a longtemps que je t’aime)

(director/writer: Philippe Claudel; cinematographer: Jérôme Alméras; editor: Virginia Bunting; music: Jean-Louis Aubert; cast: Kristin Scott Thomas (Juliette), Elsa Zylberstein (Léa), Serge Hazanavicius (Luc), Laurent Grevill (Michel), Frédéric Pierrot (Fauré), Lise Ségur (P’tit Lys), Frédéric Pierrot (Capitaine Fauré), Claire Johnston (The mother of Juliette), Mouss Zouheyri (Samir), Lily-Rose (Emelia), Jean-Claude Arnaud (Papy Paul); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Sylvestre Guarino/Yves Marmion; Sony Pictures Classics; 2008-UK/USA/France/Germany-in French with English subtitles)

“Too predictable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A psychological drama written and directed by French novelist Philippe Claudel, who makes his directorial debut with this too predictable film. At one point it tells us with a sincere face that prisoners are no different than normal citizens. It doesn’t tell us why the sad sack character played by Kristin Scott Thomas was sent to prison for 15 years and whether such a seemingly sweet person was capable of murdering her 6-year-old son until the last reel. If you didn’t know the answer that the Thomas character had her reasons and is not some kind of child abuser lunatic after five minutes you probably knew it after ten, and even the most illiterate cinema folks would have guessed the answer before it was handed to us on a silver platter in the final cop-out melodramatic scene–the film’s biggest but most disappointing scene. Even the fine sensitive performance by Thomas is not enough to convince me that the emotional tale is something juicy for me to sink my teeth into.

A withdrawn and taciturn Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas, the 48-year-old English actress who gets a chance to show-off her fluency in French), a former medical doctor, is paroled and comes to live with her caring estranged younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein)–whose parents kept her ignorant of sis’ crime. Léa’s someone Juliette has not seen or had much contact with during her 15-year prison stretch, who during that period got a doctorate, a literature professor’s job at the university, snagged a nice guy lexicographer hubby named Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) and adopted two adorable young Vietnam girls–the 8-year-old P’tit Lys (Lise Ségur) and her younger sister Emelia (Lily-Rose). Also living in their comfy middle-class house in the college town of Nancy is Luc’s father (Jean-Claude Arnaud), who reads but doesn’t speak because of a stroke.

Most of the film is taken up with an ill at ease Juliette, whose prison sentence is kept secret from her nieces and the couple’s circle of friends. Juliette’s trying to get back her civilian legs, gain the trust of her family and adjust to life after prison. She does this while she wrestles with her family past and her former hubby testifying against her at the trial, and in her current problems in landing a job–even if it’s beneath her skill level in a hospital as a medical records clerk–in order to get her own place. Juliette chain smokes, acts tense, interacts with men in a rather cold way (beds down with a stranger she crudely picks up in a bar and converses guardedly with Léa’s sympatico colleague Michel-Laurent Grevill) and tries to be a productive member of society. The big question that hangs over Juliette’s redemption, is why did she commit such a horrible crime. The answer to the mystery is touching but not an answer that will knock your socks off.