I’ve Loved You So Long (2008) ****

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr 55min
Director: Philippe Claudel
Stars: Kristin Scott Thomas, Elsa Zylberstein, Serge Hazanvicius
Genre: Drama, Foreign
Language: French, with English subtitles

No pain is too deep or enduring to be healed

In a Nutshell


Straight as an Arrow

Sound Quality

Easy to Hear

Who's That?

Few Main Characters

Naughty Words


Naked people




This is definitely a film to be seen more than once, especially to savor the ensemble performance by a superb cast. They play it like a well-wrought sonata for chamber orchestra. There is nothing out of tune, nothing wasted. Tension and momentum build inexorably out of the actors’ skill, restraint, and confidence in an excellent script by Philippe Claudel. The material translates well. You hardly need sub-titles to know what’s going on.

But, the best way to enjoy I’ve Loved You So Long is in a state of complete innocence, without a clue. At least the first time, it’s better not to know the somber secret that drives the plot. It’s more satisfying not to anticipate the small revelations that slowly, organically peel away the truth. So, no spoilers in this review – please!

The camera observes as if it had been behind bars for fifteen years – like the main character, Juliette, a pitch-perfect role for Kristin Scott Thomas. As if rediscovering a world that was lost to her, the eye is trained upon the smallest details, a fragment of amber glass, a few red wildflowers framed in the corner of a field, the twitch of an eyelid. Cinematographer Jerome Almeras gets credit for making I’ve Loved You So Long so visually eloquent.

Direction, also by Philippe Claudel, is never arch or heavy-handed. He does not underline or force important scenes as the difficult tale unfolds. Silence, almost a character in its own right, speaks volumes. It dominates the first ten minutes of the film, echoes to the very end, and is never used as a device to wring more emotion out of a shot than it deserves. This liberates the viewer to experience small events the way the characters do, moment-by-moment, sometimes delightfully, sometimes painfully, always rich with surprise.

As Juliette’s sister Léa, Elsa Zylberstein is no less extraordinary. The relationship between the two women was violently severed long ago leaving a raw wound that each has covered in a completely different way. What drives Léa to persevere in reaching her “absent” sister is as powerful as the grip on survival Juliette has maintained during her incarceration. The healing will not be easy.

Léa’s husband, his ambivalence beautifully drawn by Serge Hazanvicius, provides an abrasive but positive influence. Two adorable, adoptive daughters are like potent lucky charms. A coterie of warm and predictably “intellectual” academic friends forms the therapeutic crucible for healing, and offers a good deal of wry humor. Two very compassionate men whose own darkness helps Juliette to emerge from the shadows include Frederic Pierrot (as a corrections officer) and Laurent Grévil (as book-worm). Watch these actors’ exquisite work illuminate the background of a fine addition to this cinema season.

I’ve Loved You So Long demonstrates that redemption – like fine acting – is unlikely to appear in a bolt out of the blue. Each involves the long, slow and utterly worthwhile process of attending to every moment and fulfilling it.

Lynn McCann's checkered professional life began with dance and has included singing and acting, writing and journalism, teaching and tutoring. A long career as a computer programmer is mercifully behind her and she looks forward to publishing a memoir, a biography, and a popular history of automation technology. She continues to perform as a singer, and leads New York City tours for Elderhostel.


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