Film Review: I've Loved You So Long

Drama about a physician who returns to her estranged sister’s home after 15 years in prison is a showcase for Kristin Scott Thomas, who owns her role. Supporting talent and the mystery surrounding the incarceration also sustain interest.

With his directorial debut, I’ve Loved You So Long, novelist Philippe Claudel does a worthy job, thanks to a lot of help from his strong cast. His plot is straightforward, except for one significant gap. Juliette (Kristen Scott Thomas), a doctor, has been estranged from her family for 15 years because of incarceration for an unexplained crime. Her younger sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), a university professor, brings her back into the family fold with some hesitation.

Thus, Juliette finds herself trying to get comfortable in a stable family that includes Lea’s husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), particularly suspicious of the newcomer, and their two young adopted Asian daughters and Luc’s kindly father (Jean-Claude Arnaud).

Initially, Lea tells her kids that their aunt has just been away for a long time. Eventually, it emerges that Juliette was imprisoned for killing her own son. As Luc logically concludes, Juliette does not make the ideal babysitter. Taking the slow, bumpy road back to normalcy, Juliette eventually wins their confidence.

Such a triumph always pleases, but it’s both Scott Thomas’ performance and the mystery—what actually was the horrible crime and what could have been her motive—that engage our interest. There’s also the tension surrounding Juliette’s trouble in securing a job, considering her prison background, and her struggle to form new relationships.

Beyond the one-night stand she solicits, serious candidates for her affection include Lea’s sympathetic teaching colleague Michel (Laurent Grevill) and even kindly parole officer Faure (Frederic Pierrot), who tragically becomes a suicide.

Overall, I’ve Loved You So Long is serious, quality work that satifies. Remarkably and quite helpfully, Zylberstein and Scott Thomas, whose very slight English accent is attributed to years of marriage and incarceration in the U.K., actually look like sisters. Not quite so helpful, at least for U.S. audiences, is the difference the film suggests between French and American justice with regard to the particular crime at hand. Our system surely would have meted out a far lesser punishment for the crime in light of “mitigating” circumstances.

The location shooting in France’s eastern Alsace-Lorraine area in the city of Nancy is another plus that adds authenticity to the story