Oscar-nominated for “The English Patient” and seen most recently in “Tell No One,” Kristen Scott Thomas delivers a low-key, powerhouse portrayal of a woman with a secret past in this downbeat yet rewarding French melodrama.
The story opens in a deserted airport terminal in Nancy in the province of Alsace-Lorraine, where pallid Juliette (Scott Thomas) sits smoking and waiting. Shoulders hunched over, drably dressed and devoid of makeup, she’s the picture of desperation and despair. Soon another woman rushes in. It’s her cheery younger sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), a college professor. But it’s obvious that the two women hardly know one another.
Awkwardly, Lea takes Juliette home to meet her wary husband, Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), two adopted Vietnamese daughters (Lise Segur, Lily-Rose) and father-in-law (Jean-Claude Arnaud), left mute by a stroke. It seems Lea was a teenager when Juliette was convicted of killing her six year-old son and has spent 15 years in prison. That’s a shame-filled, ‘forbidden’ topic which Lea has never discussed with her family and friends. Above all, there’s the mystery: why did Juliette commit this horrific crime?
Reluctant to discuss the past, tormented yet poised Juliette must now cope with her troubled parole officer (Frederic Pierrot), the task of finding a job and tentatively building an intimate relationship with Lea’s lonely widower colleague (Laurent Grevill).
While screenwriter and first-time director Philippe Claudel scores in casting Kristen Scott Thomas, who subtly grounds her reserved performance in reality, his grief and guilt-ridden script is full of all-too-convenient contrivances, augmented by Jean-Louis Aubert’s foreboding musical score. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “I’ve Loved You So Long” is a sorrowful 7. It’s a psychological character study of a rebirth that’s rooted in resilience and rehabilitation.