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I've Loved You So Long

Directed by Philippe Claudel
Certificate PG13, 112 mins

I've Loved You So Long

Juliette Fontaine has the air of someone emerging from the shadows. She is all but monosyllabic, her drawn, blank features expect little from life. Kristin Scott Thomas received deserved acclaim for her haunting portrayal of the ex-convict reacquainting herself with the world. The haughty air that has often cloaked Scott Thomas is here an expertly crafted carapace that demands she not explain herself. She did the crime, she served the time, and that is all there is to it.

If only life were so simple. What is made clear throughout this debut from the writer/director Philippe Claudel is how one individual's life choices, good and bad, ripple out to affect the family and friends that surround them whether they like it or not.

I've Loved you So Long examines how others respond to anyone with a criminal past. Understanding can only go so far. A potential employer asks sympathetically '15 years in prison? You must have done something pretty bad,' but when she reveals what, he shrieks: 'Get out!'

In her meetings with officials - a morose police officer, someone from social services - we gradually learn of Juliette's past. Otherwise she remains quiet. She has literally carried out the unspeakable. So when challenged at a dinner party as to where she's been all this time, and she admits she was in prison for murder, the place erupts in laughter. Only the teacher Michel who (like Claudel) has worked in prisons recognizes the truth, and in so offers a tentative friendship.

Juliette's very absence from her family picture for so long has had a profound and inter-generational impact on those she left behind. Her younger sister Lea, (a nervy Elber Zylberstein, well cast for her sisterly resemblance) ricochets between deep kindness - she opens the family home to her long-lost sibling - and the social fear of discovery of her sister's awful crime, as if the secret her parents never spoke of might bring down her the happy family she has established since.

Yet the attempts towards some form of forgiveness and reconciliation on both sides let the fresh air back into Juliette's lungs. Very quietly over the course of the film, we watch a lost and absent soul gradually re-engage with the world, and find acceptance from loved ones as they adapt and reshape their own relationships to include her. It is that very interconnectedness which provides hope.

The theme of dealing with a hidden truth seems a current concern of French cinema. The Son told a similar story. Hidden and Days of Glory addressed France's relationship with Algeria. My Name is Sabine, Sandrine Bonnaire's documentary about her autistic sister seemed an apology for neglectfulness. These films suggest a nation a turning point, ready to confront and right, or at least affirm past wrongs.

Catherine von Ruhland