There’s an unspoken desire in most of mankind to live a life of unconditional love and perpetual care. Parallel to that lies the fear of being utterly forgotten and ultimately ignored without reason. First-time film director Philippe Claudel delves into these underlying themes with “I’ve Loved You So Long.”
In a beautiful film about the unfaltering love between sisters and a family unit comprised of blood relatives, adopted children and colleagues-turned-stalwart friends, Claudel’s freshman effort is a true work of expressive art.
The film opens with Juliette, a woman teetering towards the start of middle age. In a desolate train station, the camera has no choice but to focus heavily and entirely on her, an empty shell of a human being. She mindlessly takes a cigarette to and from her face, the Pall Mall soft pack at her side, already a character staple. She looks dead in the eyes and entirely void of emotion. Her overall gait looks as though she has lost hope and has maintained existence through some sort of catatonic state for a long time. Not to mention she has just finished a 15-year stint in prison, and is now re-emerging into a society that had once judged and shunned her into oblivion.
Kristin Scott Thomas embraces the role of Juliette entirely, allowing her facial vacancy to be interpreted as a blank slate as Juliette struggles with the thought of having to embrace and live her life anew. After spending a good portion of her life as a living being with a dead soul, Juliette must start from scratch. Thomas wholly takes on this role and creates a persona embodying fears which are underlying for most of humanity.
“The subjects this character deals with — isolation, rejection, abandonment, interior pain … are kind of taboo, pushed to the back of your head,” Thomas said. “I knew playing the part, I would have to look at them and deal with them every day.”
Claudel delivers a real tour-de-force with his first feature length film in “I’ve Loved You So Long.” After having spent nearly a decade in the world of novels, Claudel has ventured into the realm of filmmaking by actually directing for the first time. It was in 2005 that his novel “Les Âmes Grises” was adapted to film by director Yves Angelo, with Claudel writing the screenplay.
“He awoke in me a desire to have more control over a creation, until the very end. I was waiting for a deep desire and an important story to me to step up to direction,” Claudel said of the effect his first exposure to filmmaking had for his eventual creation.
It is this creation that exemplifies a loud proclamation, one showcasing Claudel’s artistic expression as truly capable of transcending planes of media. His career as an already celebrated French novelist has given him the fodder for expanding his work by means of filmmaking. “I’ve Loved You So Long” is just a testament to this claim.
Claudel works hard to employ very specific modes of filmmaking by manipulating camera mobility or immobility, using lighting and décor to create the notion of space and the lack thereof, or the abundance of emptiness. The visual aesthetic of the film adds to the message of the narrative and what’s more astonishing than the actual execution is that it’s at the hands of a first-time filmmaker.
“There are many silences in the movie— between Juliette and [her sister] Léa, Juliette and the others,” Claudel said. “You can work with silence in the movie, but it’s difficult to work with silence in a novel … When I write a novel I have one instrument, the language. In a movie … you have many, many instruments.”
Moreover, Claudel does a brilliant job in providing an absolutely astounding time at the movies. He does not try to best the audience by making it second-guess its prescribed predictions that would work for the Hollywood cinema format.
Instead, he takes the viewer on a personal journey into the labyrinth of a woman’s psyche. The audience emerges from the film fulfilled as if it understands a new level of existence in a world that is undoubtedly flawed, but perfect in mankind’s ability for social companionship.
“My goal was just to be very close to life,” Claudel said. “I wanted to show the real life, a life very close to all life. I wanted to put some of the audience in the role. In this screen, it’s like a mirror. I’m sure we know Juliette— our sister, neighbor or friend. It shows the importance of others in our life of rebirth after a drama, the importance to have a new chance, the idea that we are nothing without the others. That was very important for me. I wanted to give that to the audience.”