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BERLINALE 2008 Competition / France

Claudel makes true auteur film

by 

The high quality of I’ve Loved You So Long [+see also:
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film profile
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– which screened in competition yesterday evening – did not fail to impress audiences in Berlin, not that French writer Philippe Claudel was unprepared for his first foray into cinema. He had been carefully planning his project for several years.

The film centres on Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is released after fifteen years of imprisonment for murder and is reunited with her much younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein, for whom this role was specifically written). Léa had been cut off from her sister by their parents, who were determined to forget all about Juliette.

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The story is that of a woman marked in every way by her years of confinement and whose self-punishing tendencies we later come to understand. Her sister is married, teaches literature at the university and has adopted two little girls. "Well, that’s life!" according to Léa, whose words are filled with dissatisfaction.

If at the start of the film the enormous tension (effectively expressed by the impatience of Léa’s husband, a typical man who loves football and is mistrustful of ex-convicts) derives from the sense of shame felt in admitting where Juliette has been for all this time; if right up to the end – once this tension has been resolved – the film then focuses on the motive behind such an inconceivable act of murder, the film in reality revolves around the theme evoked in the title.

This title, which recalls a song that the two sisters used to play on the piano during happier days when they were together, echoes the great emptiness in Léa’s life. Her character is in a feverish, child-like state of permanent expectation, perfectly embodied by Zylberstein.

As the actress explained to the press, Léa is "badly formed as a person", for since childhood she has been haunted by an "ever-present absence". In a "schizophrenic" state of mind, due to the conflict between her love for her sister and her parents’ enforced prohibition of that love, "she is the reflection of Juliette’s past, the one who suffers the most, the one who carries the burden of this drama".

Claudel’s skill in building the tension (which was palpable during filming, according to Zylberstein) is felt once more in his ability to create, in order to offset this atmosphere, scenes he describes as "safety valves" – rather humorous and refreshing moments. According to the director, he has also woven into this "story about a woman, about rebirth, about other people’s anxiety, like an unknown world" another idea that constitutes "the only truly militant aspect of the film": the passion for reading.

And from this film – in which television is disapproved of and in which cinema is referred to on several occasions – we emerge feeling the same twinge of sorrow as Juliette does when she closes her book after the final page: a faint sadness mingled with pleasure.

I’ve Loved You So Long was produced by UGC YM and co-produced by German company Integral Film, with financial backing from Eurimages in particular. International sales are being handled by UGC.

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(Translated from French)

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