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I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG

SYNOPSIS:
After years apart and estranged, Juliette’s (Kristin Scott Thomas), younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein), unexpectedly invites her to live with her young family.

Review by Louise Keller:
Filled with intricate emotions, this sensitive and beautifully restrained film blossoms from its austere beginnings to a rich and satisfying conclusion with finesse and elegance. The plot is outwardly simple, yet it conceals a maze of complexities that first time director Philippe Claudel masterfully reveals a little at a time. Claudel's script creates real, rounded characters in a tangible environment and offers Kristin Scott-Thomas a plum role which she harnesses brilliantly and with subtlety. This is a film whose power lies in its restraint and the impact of its emotions compound as our hearts open wider and wider with each revelation.

Life changes us, we hear. There is no question that much has happened to both Scott-Thomas' Juliette and her younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) in the time they have been apart. There is no barrage of questions however: issues are too sensitive to voice. Instead there's the questioning voice of a curious child that cuts through taboos, while the deaf, mute grandfather makes ideal company. Little things touch a raw nerve. The suitcase graveyard for discarded dolls; the classroom debate about murder and the validity of literary construction; the woman in the painting, imprisoned in her frame.

Tension mounts from unanswered questions whose answers we long to know. Where? What? Why? And how? Even the most ordinary task is far from ordinary and there are stumbling blocks around ever corner as Juliette tries to integrate into her sister's world, meet new friends and find a job. Léa readily reveals her emotions while Juliette keeps hers deeply hidden - until the final revelation in the film's powerful climax. Claudel elicits superb performances from his entire cast: Laurent Grévill as Michel, the teacher who sees the world through books; Frédéric Pierrot as the optimistic cop with a dream; Serge Hazanavicius as Léa's resentful husband; Lise Ségur exceptional as 8 year old P'tit Lys. Zylberstein is all heart and Scott-Thomas is magnificent. Claudel's integration of French children's songs (one of which provides the film's title) connects us subliminally and instantly, as it nurtures the child within each of us.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Completely avoiding clichés or soppy sentimentality, Philippe Claudel delivers a superior work of nuances that transform into a profound and satisfying emotional drama. Intelligent and moving, the film slowly unravels the intense knot inside Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) and the one that has tightened around her relationship with her younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein). Both women are riveting as they construct characters that jump off the screen. Scott Thomas makes one of those complete physical transformations that signal a major performance and backs it up with a minimalist delivery that heightens the underlying dramatic content. Her every atom of being is carried into this performance and it's perfectly judged.

Zilberstein keeps performance pace with Scott Thomas as the well balanced, happily married, younger sister whose life has been so deeply impacted by Juliette's. She is at once aware of the distance between them and desperate to bridge it - but afraid. Excellent support from the three men (four counting speechless grandpa) whose lives intersect with Juliette's on her release from prison, and from the accomplished 8 year old Lise Segur as the elder of two adopted Vietnamese girls in Léa's family.

Crafted so well that we don't see the craft, the work embraces the lives of all with whom Juliette comes in contact on her release, from parole officer and policeman to her sister's family and her teacher colleagues. Each relationship is deftly, brilliantly sketched and the relationship snapshots are satisfyingly complex.

Claudel's sparse but layered screenplay relies almost entirely on performance and editing; that's not to discount the value of a haunting score and the seamless production design. Claudel allows the audience to be involved by understatement and subtlety. We are given information in fragments but it never feels manipulative. Ultimately, we are invited to understand, not merely to know, and this gives the film its ballast.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (M)
(France, 2008)

Il y a longtemps que je t'aime

CAST: Kristin Scott Thomas, Elsa Zylberstein, Serge Hazanavicius, Lise Segur, Laurent Greville, Frederic Pierrot, Claire Johnston, Catherine Hosmalin, Jean-Claude Arnaud, Olivier Cruveiller

PRODUCER: Yves Marmion

DIRECTOR: Philippe Claudel

SCRIPT: Philippe Claudel

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jerome Almeras

EDITOR: Virgine Bruant

MUSIC: Jean-Louis Aubert

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Samuel Deshors

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2008 (special advance screenings Dec 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 2008)







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