“I’ve Loved You So Long” unfolds patiently but not sluggishly as the textured tale of Juliette Fontaine (Kristin Scott Thomas), an intensely private and haunted woman reuniting with the world after her release from a fifteen year prison sentence for killing her own son.
Juliette moves in with the family of her younger sister, Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), who desperately wishes to reconnect with her phlegmatic sibling. As she enters the home Lea shares in Nancy, France with her husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), two adopted young children and a mute father-in-law, only Lea and Luc are privy in their circle to not only the fact that Juliette was incarcerated but that the crime was infanticide. The film by Philippe Claudel is parceled out intelligently and gracefully; inside the home it’s expressed through the sisters’ hesitant reunion, their emerging yet tentative relationship after 15 years adrift, the contradictorily understandable and irrational reservations of Lea’s husband, Luc, and the natural curiosity of an inquisitive 8-year-old niece. Outside the home, it’s reflected by Juliette’s hampered job prospects, the melancholy of a plaintively loquacious parole officer, a tipsy crepes-in-the-country dinner party, a visit to their mother suffering from Alzheimer’s and a burgeoning, tentative romance with a professorial colleague of Lea‘s. Bit by bit, these moments gradually reveal not only a sense of the secretive Juliette but the well-developed supporting characters as well until the film explodes in the sincere, honest and tragic revelation shared between the sisters.
With lines rigidly creased between her brows, a pinched smoker’s mouth, and an ashen translucence to her pallor, Scott Thomas physically inhabits Juliette. But it’s a performance more laudable for what lies beneath the mask as this is an assured, unaffected rendering permeated by expert emotional nuance. Her talent is prodigiously bilingual; she’s getting so many good, strong roles in the French language, I’m not sure we’ll hear her in English anytime soon. As the devoted younger sister, Zylberstein gives a performance of terrific striations, straining between her desire to repair wounds with her sister by providing a salve to her psyche while balancing the concerns of her husband and the welfare of her children.
Life is terminal, like a slowly encroaching sunset shadow with a sickle, and can be so cruel that we wonder whether the wonderful moments make up for the tragic, and with this foreboding sense Juliette is hounded by a guilt more incarcerating than any penal system, more strident than any rule of law, and more permanent than any criminal record. Still, despite the onus of despair, the sisters share a moment of self atonement in the film‘s final life-affirming moments, and in this culmination “I’ve Loved You So Long” is a movie that pierces the essence of filial dynamics.
As much as “I’ve Loved You So Long” is a delicate, patient exploration of family relationships, “Rachel Getting Married,” a story which also hinges on the return of a damaged sister, this one arriving from rehab on the cusp of her sister‘s wedding weekend, is an overwrought, Mewl Age copper kitchen-sink drama.
Anne Hathaway plays Kym, the sister as welcome to the bride as a raccoon corpse in the crawl space, in a performance engineered for the Academy. She chain smokes, wears a goth fringe, circles her eyes with dark eyeliner, and tosses quips with sassy abandon, so that almost every bon mot reeks with sarcasm. Director Jonathan Demme seems to have encouraged her; a jovial rehearsal dinner of unrehearsed, naturalistically nervy speeches is punctuated by an all-too-obvious soliloquy which hollers “This is Anne Hathaway’s Oscar Moment,” where a sober Kym is the last to speak and delivers a rambling, spiteful and awkward diatribe. I half expected Kym to turn to the camera and purr “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Demme.”
The festivities are held in Kym and Rachel’s father’s rambling home of innumerable rooms; the square footage seems to have confined the film to big statements instead of small discoveries. The groom, Sidney, is a musician, and to underscore this point, Demme posts musicians in every nook. With so many mandolins and violins being strummed and plucked, the grounds resemble a Bluegrass Festival.
Rachel, played by Rosemarie DeWitt, is a hipster soccer mom type with a psychology degree and a hackneyed script, which makes her a tad unbearable, at times. Bill Irwin, a mime by trade, plays the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” soppy father. Debra Winger pops by as Kym and Rachel’s distant, divorced mother, and executes a massively emotive scene with Hathaway, one where a great deal happens but which culminates in no ramifications. There‘s a whole bunch of teeth gnashing and raised voices as feelings are expressed in this film but very little insight. Yet “Rachel Getting Married” is so earnest it was probably made on recycled film stock.
It’s supposed to feel like an ensemble piece as the frenetic energy of the jarring cinematography from an unsteady cam darts around the home, but several of the more interesting and promising roles are woefully underdeveloped. Sidney, played by Tunde Adebimpe, the lead singer of TV on the Radio, is a likable, amiable bloke given too little to say. He generally reacts to the sisters’ pantomime. Mather Zickel, in the role of the groomsman, Kieran, provides a deft display and, unlike Kym, shows that addicts clearly can be people with wrenching dependency issues who can still connect to those close to them or, at the very least, can be civil. Other members of Sidney’s family and entourage are shown in cursory glimpses when more expanded, more rewarding roles were deserving. There’s another, superior movie here: Sidney Getting Married.