Sony // 2008 // 117 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // March 3rd, 2009
Can one escape the prison of their own troubled past?
Nominated for two Golden Globes and a host of other awards, I've Loved You So Long finally comes to North America via Blu-ray. Most moviegoers are familiar with Kristin Scott Thomas thanks to her Oscar-nominated turn in The English Patient, but many wouldn't know she is (at least) bilingual, and has appeared in a number of French films over the past few years. This one in particular brings the spotlight back to Scott Thomas, displaying her remarkable range.
After serving a 15-year prison term, Juliette (Scott Thomas) is reunited with her younger sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein, Jefferson in Paris), and goes to stay with her at a social worker's urging, just until Juliette can get back on her feet. Having been abandoned by family and friends because of the nature of her crime, Juliette emerges withdrawn, haunted, and wary of her sister's enthusiastic welcome.
While trying to adjust to life after jail, Juliette must navigate a series of difficult waters, rebuilding her relationship with Lea, securing employment despite her past, and finding the strength to release the pain locked inside her.
I've Loved You So Long has a truly masterful ending. I'm not going to tell you what it is, of course, but the scene -- and the final line of the film, immediately after which we cut to the credits -- perfectly encapsulate the journey we've just been on, summing up the point of it all. The scene doles out the final tidbit of information we need for a complete picture of events and their meaning. Just because I so enjoyed the characters, I wonder, had the movie carried on for another thirty seconds, what the next scene would've been; but had there been a "next scene," it would've been fully redundant. While there is a great deal to appreciate throughout the film, it is this final scene that stamps its indelible impression on the brain.
The punch and efficiency of the final scene is indicative of the film as a whole: we're only shown what is necessary to tell the story, rarely subject to small talk or stalling leading up to the main event. By that same token, once the point of a scene has been made, we're on to the next thing. There are no trite sequences of Juliette discovering that everyone now carries cell phones or being shocked by reality TV. Early on, Juliette and Lea are at a restaurant for lunch, and Juliette remarks how they used to frequent the place when they were kids, Juliette taking her for cake after dance class. Lea has no memory of this -- she was only seven or eight -- and the lack greatly disturbs her. Yet, just as Lea begins to get worked up about her lost memory, the film moves along and we're on to the next thing. It's made its point, so no need to dwell. Impressive that first-time director Philippe Claudel has such confidence in his material as to ruthlessly excise any extraneous material. On a couple of occasions, I felt as if an emotional beat may have been shortchanged, but perhaps the impact of the final moments would have been lessened if it hadn't been the first time we really see these characters laid bare.
While the plot of I've Loved You So Long may be straightforward to the point of sounding dull, its story enthralls thanks to magnetic performances from Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein. The pair is immediately believable as estranged sisters, with all the baggage, resentment, and treasured memories that implies. The conceit of the film -- that Juliette has been in prison, and away from her younger sister, for fifteen years -- allows the necessary exposition to come naturally, as there is so much that these two don't know about each other and that they yearn to discover. In particular, Scott Thomas portrays Juliette with a remarkable level of subtlety and great command of emotion; she offers a guarded glimpse into the soul of this character. They are supported by an observational screenplay that offers small insights into the ways prison can strip one's humanity, while also making something of a mystery of Juliette's crime, which surprisingly prevents it from becoming sensationalized.
The Blu-ray of I've Loved You So Long houses an extremely clean, crisp, and detailed transfer of the film. Lighting is naturalistic, cold, and not particularly colorful, yet there is a great deal of depth on display. Grain is extremely sparse, showing up most often in low-light sequences, yet there are no obvious signs of Digital Noise Reduction such as waxy faces or blurred textures. Picture quality is very impressive. Audio-wise, almost all of the sound is contained to the front three speakers, with little ambient noise to speak of. While not exactly head turning, the score, made up of a lone electric or acoustic guitar, comes across with beautiful fidelity, and dialogue never sounds anything but natural. I've Loved You So Long defaults on its original French soundtrack with English subtitles, and although the included English dub has Scott-Thomas doing her own dialogue, I highly recommend sticking with the subtitled version to experience the performances as intended.
The only real special feature to speak of is a 5-minute assortment of deleted scenes with subtitled, matter-of-fact director's commentary.
I've Loved You So Long is a smartly acted, well-paced film anchored by two wonderfully nuanced performances. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes