Hearty Helpings 

French I've Loved You So Long serves up a square meal

I used to believe that one day, when I became rich—a prospect that is becoming increasingly unlikely—I'd have the means to eat filet mignon for every meal. True, perhaps, but what I didn't realize was that even the most savory repast becomes bland with repetition. Two weeks into such a diet, I'm sure I'd be craving meatloaf. Similarly, I have an unrealistic expectation that every film I watch should be an unquestionable masterpiece capable of transporting me to a rapturous Valhalla of cinematic surfeit. I've Loved You So Long is not a masterpiece, but is exactly the sort of meat-and-potatoes film that gives sustenance to a public fed on bubblegum films and prepares our palates for that rare gourmet banquet.

When Juliette (the excellent Kristin Scott Thomas) reunites with sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) following a 15-year absence, their estrangement is not initially explained. Gradually, it is revealed that Juliette spent those years in prison for the murder of her young son, and Lea—then a young teenager—was forbidden to contact her. Naturally, Lea's husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) is wary of Juliette's presence in their household, but her two young children quickly warm to their new aunt. With the help of sympathetic poetry professor Michel (Laurent Grevill), Juliette begins to reconnect with her family and the outside world.

It was with mixed feelings that I read this year's nominees for the Academy Awards. Gratified as I was to see Melissa Leo's nomination for Frozen River—and the victory it represents for an Idaho film professional—her inclusion usurped the spot Thomas had occupied during the Golden Globe race. Her portrayal of Juliette is a careful blend of guardedness and hesitant tenderness, and is utterly pitch-perfect. The British-born actress has made a daring yet dazzling decision by forgoing the Hollywood grind in favor of the French film industry. Although she has worked with some of America's most celebrated directors—Robert Altman, Brian De Palma and Robert Redford to name a few—her continued commitment to the country that got her started allows her to perfect her art. Zylberstein as the loving and protective Lea is a delightful surprise, and the entire cast suitably supports these two phenomenal actresses.

Writer Philippe Claudel proves a capable director in his debut outing, although neither the script nor the photography is particularly inventive, with a few startling exceptions. Jean-Louis Aubert admirably scores the film, utilizing a soft electronic undertone that subtly emphasizes Juliette's disquiet. While no serious complaints could be leveled against the craft of the film, neither did it make a strong case for excessive plaudits.

I've Loved You So Long is a solid, if somewhat unremarkable film. Compared to the tripe that is frequently produced by the entertainment-driven American film industry, it's a healthy home-cooked meal after a month of eating hotdogs, and it's better than 85 percent of the films you'll see this year. Although in 10 years, it will only be notable as one of Thomas' finest performances, it's the type of production that should be part of any discerning filmgoer's staple diet.

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