The opening shot of I’ve Loved You So Long is a shock: a sustained close-up of a really haggard-looking Kristin Scott Thomas. Why is her face, with its famously aristocratic bone structure, so aggressively devoid of makeup and cheated of flattering lighting? Why the furrows of hopelessness, the weedy eyebrows? You’ve got to wait around for the answer, since the explanation is paid out clue by withheld clue in this high-toned women’s weepie from writer-director Philippe Claudel — a Gallic variation on the suffering enjoyed in a Douglas Sirk melodrama. It’s fair to say, though, that Scott Thomas plays Juliette, who?s been ”away” (enough coyness — she was in prison). Now she’s free, granted a wardrobe of mouse-colored garments, and coming to stay at the home of her good-hearted younger sister, Léa (Elsa Zylberstein), whom she hasn’t seen in years. So there’s a lot to catch up on, during which time Juliette slowly relearns the value of a good haircut and the attention of a good man (Laurent Grevill).
The story is a luxurious mess of woes. But dramatic resolution is almost beside the point when Scott Thomas and the precise, birdlike Zylberstein engage in such attractive flights of performance in service to sisterly love. This is a movie about actors acting; who cares why Juliette was in the pen? B