Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on March 4th, 2009
The highpoint of I’ve Loved You So Long is a rather brilliant performance by Kristen Scott Thomas. She is able to inhabit a character in ways I’ve rarely seen. You’ll be hard pressed to find any identifiable boundaries between the actor and the character. Now, usually, that’s the foundation for a solid film. The problem is that her character just isn’t that interesting of a person after a while. Of course, there are nuances to observe, and Thomas serves them up well, but after a short time we’ve really come to know this character pretty well. We just don’t find her all that interesting.
Juliette (Thomas) has spent the last 15 years in prison for the murder of her 6 year old son. She has been expectedly abandoned by her family while locked up. When it is finally time for her to be released, the only one willing to even talk to her is her estranged sister, Lea (Zylberstein) who takes her into her home. Lea has a family of her own now. She is married with two adopted Vietnamese children. The film pretty much follows no plot or story. It’s more or less Juliette’s journey to adapt to the outside world and deal with her own flood of emotions. If the movie is Juliette’s journey, then it is also a journey for Lea. Without revealing the ending, I can safely say the only destination here is understanding.
Unfortunately, this is a slow and plodding journey. Like trying to run in three feet of water, you will eventually get somewhere, but it will be painfully slow, and the journey will sap all of your energy and strength by the time it’s over. Like all such journeys, you must ask yourself: Was the destination worth the effort? In this case, I’m afraid to say that it wasn’t. Perhaps some of the story is lost in the English translation. I did discover, quite by accident, that the English dub was not matching with the subtitles. In most cases the discrepancies were minor, but not always. Again, I must say what a wonderful performance Kristen Scott Thomas delivered here. She took a rather boring character study and made it somewhat interesting. One of the film’s major flaws is that it describes a woman who at times doesn’t appear to feel. While that might be interesting on some artistic intellectual level, it makes for slow drama. I can see this working far better on the page. At least then we could explore the mind of Juliette and get some inkling that there is really something going on there. Instead, the character is mostly indifferent. Take it from a guy who knows too many indifferent people. It gets old. Ultimately it’s the film’s slow pace and plodding script that make it likely not very commercially successful. It did well in the film festival circuit, and you know what? It looks like a film that did very well in the international film circuit.
I’ve Loved You So Long is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. One thing I do have to say for this film is that it has a distinctive and interesting look. The picture is solid and is full on 1080p using an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. Director Philippe Claudel makes great use of the close-up. Throughout the film we get long shots suddenly filled with close-ups, mostly of Thomas. These shots combined with the incredible sharpness high definition allows gives us a look at just how good Thomas really is. You can see every slight movement in her face and eyes. She delivers the kind of lifeless eyes that I suspect Quint talked about on Jaws. But these lifeless eyes are alive in their deadness. We can feel the quiet contemplation, and it’s all because the Blu-ray allows us to study the result in such detail. I watched the standard DVD as well, and while we can still see how powerful the performance is, the effect is greatly diminished. Most of the film deals with appropriately muted color. There are moments where color, and likely symbolic hope, are allowed to invade the film. There is one scene that particularly stood out for me. The sisters are walking through a farmer’s grain field, and the golden color against the blue sky was absolutely breathtaking. Black levels are equally strong. This is a very sweet transfer, showing off some nice cinematography.
There is both a French and English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 presentation available. I will admit that I chickened out and opted for the English version. If you can deal with the subtitles, or understand French, I readily admit you’re likely in for a better viewing experience. I dislike subtitles only because I study films as I watch them. I’m always looking for the subtle things in the performances, set decoration, or cinematography. If I have to read the dialog, I feel like I’ve missed so much that the filmmakers and actors wanted me to notice. Anyway, that’s the track I’m reviewing here. It’s really not an aggressive mix. This film is pretty much solid dialog. In fact, you’ll find it perfectly silent more often than you are used to. We spend a lot of time just watching Juliette in quiet contemplation.
You can hear the dialog just fine, and that’s about all the film offers, so it’s an effective enough mix.
Deleted Scenes: These are in French only with English subtitles. There are 7 in total for about 5 minutes of footage. You do have a handy play all option. There is also an option to have audio commentary here by the director. There’s really nothing new here as they appear to be mostly alternative takes.
This is one of those films that is hard to review. There is going to be a hard core following out there that will consider my review, and ultimately my tastes, rather pedestrian. You know what? They are. Films like this don’t usually appeal to the masses, nor should they. There’s nothing wrong with attempting art for art’s sake. I’ve done it myself in music. The difference is that I don’t expect the audience to flock to it because it’s such a work of art. I suggest you rent it to find out if it’s your cup of tea. It wasn’t mine. Do I expect everyone to feel that way? “Of course not.”