Directed by Philippe Claudel
I’ve Loved You So Long
“I’ve Loved You So Long” is the pale English translation of the French children’s song “Il y a Longtemps Que Je T’aime, Jamais Je Ne T’Oublirer.” In French the song has a double meaning, because although it talks about a fountain, it’s also about a love for someone that will last forever: “It’s a long time that I have loved you; I will never forget you.” In the case of this film, that someone is a 6-year-old child who died many years ago.
Kristin Scott Thomas has just come out of prison where she’s served a 15-year term for murder. She will stay at her younger sister’s house – a kind of halfway house for her -- as she slowly reconnects with a living world. The house has her sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein), her sister’s husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), her mute father who’s had a stroke and can’t speak; he just reads, and their two adorable adopted Vietnamese daughters.
The film is about her first few months out; she visits her parole officer, she picks up a man to sleep with, she looks for a job, she slowly relates to those around her, while only Léa and Luc know where she’s been. We learn, almost as an aside, that in fact she was a doctor at one time. Watching this beautiful actress conceal her mobile face with an affectless mask, and cover her body with shapeless, mousy clothes, is an enormous tribute to her skill. She must endure the curiosity, even the hostility of strangers without cracking up or confessing to what we know is eating her up inside.
At the same time, the life of the family goes on, and little by little she reconnects with her sister. The writer/director Philippe Claudel, whose first film this is, has already written a number of novels; this was taken from one of them. In a sense, and without demeaning “I’ve Loved You So Long,” this film reminds me of the overblown film tragedies of the 1930s and 40s, with their secrets and lies that lead to – well, what? Usually, great revelations that are designed to make us cry. But “I’ve Loved You So Long” has a starkness to it, an understated sense of observing people in everyday situations, that refuses to take that road. I was very moved.