Unaccountably overlooked by this year’s Oscars, and shamefully neglected by Movie Talk until now, Kristin Scott Thomas gives the performance of her career in the moving French drama I’ve Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t’aime).
In the role of a former doctor weighed down by feelings of despair and guilt after serving 15 years in prison, Scott Thomas shows that you don’t have to go in for hammy histrionics in order to convey depths of emotion. Instead, she quietly constructs a performance of great subtlety and insight that gradually works its way under the viewer’s skin.
As for Scott Thomas’s own skin, well, she certainly isn’t afraid to display herself in the most unflattering light.
When we first encounter her character, Juliette, she has the ashen pallor and defeated air of the long-term prisoner. Why she has been in prison for so long is something the film initially keeps from the viewer, but Juliette’s past evidently causes considerable unease when she goes to live with her younger sister, Léa (played with great delicacy by Elsa Zylberstein), in the home she shares with her husband, father-in-law and two adopted Vietnamese daughters.
I’ve Loved You So Long is partly a mystery (what did Juliette do that was so terrible?), but more importantly it’s also a study of rehabilitation and of sisterly love. Watching Juliette, tenderly helped by her sister, slowly overcome her hopelessness and open up again to life is far more compelling, and touching, than the solving of an enigma.
Novelist turned director Philippe Claudel doesn’t get everything right with his first film – the full revelation of Juliette’s crime, late in the movie, throws up some awkward questions that the movie doesn’t properly answer – but he does elicit tremendous performances from his cast, and Scott Thomas really is flawless. For Hollywood not to give her an Oscar nomination: that really was a crime.