I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (Philippe Claudel, France, 2008, 6)
That grade is misleading. This was nine-tenths of a terrific movie, comfortable 8-grade territory, until the last plot point completely took back and actively undercut what the first nine-tenths of the movie had been about. If you walk out … when Kristin Scott Thomas is making a bed, you’ll think you walked out of a year’s best contender.
Scott Thomas deserves the awards buzz that’s already netted her a Golden Globe nod, though obviously it helps if you’re gonna be in a French movie to be a well-known Anglophone actress as well.¹ But what makes her performance great is that she’s obviously in “deglamorizing” mode, but she does this without coming across as simply trying to look intentionally ugly (think, Charlize Theron in MONSTER). It’s how this character Juliette looks, a thoroughgoing plainness, the result of 15 years in jail and getting used to not being made-up. KST also simply and completely *inhabited* a newly-freed inmate in a score of ways — her standoffish body language and her conversation style. She answers questions, but little small talk and not speaking unless spoken to, and keeping her own counsel: all prison survival norms of keep-your-head-down and don’t-lag-to-the-screws.
Similarly, there’s a scene where Juliette picks up a man at a bar, goes to bed with him, and he asks “was it good?” “No, not at all, but it doesn’t matter,” she says, without acting “Glum,” just sorta slightly tickled but not really ecstatic. It’s the preciseness of the playing and how it matches the sensibility of the character and the film that is so drably magical, if that makes any sense. Like how Bogart held his arms in THE PETRIFIED FOREST, only much subtler, KST’s performance deserves to be anthologized for its mastery of the body language of a prisoner.
But also very good in a much-less-showy role (that will of course be ignored) is Elsa Zylberstein, as the sister Lea to whom Juliette is released, whom she hardly knew but is the only family she has. She’s conventionally happier, almost Poppy-like compared to Juliette, curious to expand her knowledge of the crime which leads her to push while consciously knowing when not to push. There’s also a two-scene character, hardly significant dramatically, of a post-release job-placement officer. What struck me is that the actress in question must weigh more than 300 pounds, perhaps 400. But she won the role and plays it competently and professionally, without her freakish physical appearance coming off as a stunt or even as much as an onscreen word.