I've Loved You So Long: Boozehound Cinephile / Ted Boynton
Boozehound Cinephile | March 5, 2009 | Comments ()
Pop Culture Item Consumed: I’ve Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemp que je t’aime ), which released on DVD March 3, 2009. I’ve Loved You So Long features Kristin Scott Thomas showing off in yet another French-speaking role following her stellar supporting turn in Tell No One. Thomas, 48 during the making of the film, has rarely if ever looked as haunted and haggard as in I’ve Loved You So Long. Nor has she ever looked so beautiful.
Beverage Consumed: In honor of Kristin Scott Thomas, a slight splurge with a 2004 bottle of Meursault 1er cru Charmes by Yves Boyer-Martenot, served with Mrs. socalled’s famous blackened cod with bacon, lentils, and greens, which we ate from our laps in front of the television. The term “Meursault” comes from a village in Burgundy and designates an appellation of the white French varietal wine grown nearby. As an unabashed fan of California chardonnay, I still recognize no better white wines in the world than the honey-rich Burgundys made from chardonnay grapes in eastern France. In particular, those wines produced from the Charmes vineyards offer a deep, complex flavor best enjoyed with only a light chill — intense cold takes the taste out of wine, which is often the point with lesser chardonnays and lighter whites. With a strong chill one can enjoy a pinot gris that might otherwise set the teeth on edge with a taste commonly called a “wang.” Good quality chardonnays, both French and American, should be either chilled for a short time, perhaps a half-hour, or removed from the refrigerator an hour or so before drinking. One can always simply set the temperature of one’s wine refrigerator properly, but if you have that capacity, you don’t need me lecturing you.
When preparing for this column, especially these days, I try to be mindful of varying budgets in selecting beverages, and Meursault is not for everyday drinking except by the wealthy, the deranged, or those lucky enough to dwell in Burgundy. Decent Meursault Charmes options typically start at about $40 a bottle, but for the true Meursault experience, one must find a 1er cru or grand cru selection. The terms 1er cru and grand cru are used to refer to higher quality classifications of French wine, though in the mind-numbingly convoluted and inherently subjective world of French wine regulation it is not always clear which of the two terms designates the best quality wine. Sometimes they are even used together for a 1er grand cru designation, and I’ve seen such designations as Premier grand cru classé A, which apparently translates as “super-duper double-awesome, and this time we really, really mean it.”
Frog-gigging aside, the designations do serve a purpose in delineating quality breaks, but for the amateur such as myself they are more guideposts than reliable rules — I’ve suffered through some wangy grand crus in my time. Meursaults in the 1er cru and grand cru classifications typically range from the mid-$50s up into the stratosphere. Meursault Charmes can be drunk relatively young, with a two-year-old bottle serving quite nicely, but it also ages well for ten to fifteen years, gaining richness and complexity as the years go by. Older bottles frequently fetch very high prices at auctions, but my admittedly limited experience with older white wines, by which I mean more than fifteen years old, has not been positive.
The point of all of this: If you feel like splurging on a great bottle of white for a special occasion, this is a great choice. A reputable wine merchant will be happy to give advice and help find something in your price range.
Summary of Action: The tangled, vine-like netting of family relationships provides an endless supply of dramatic narrative possibilities. After eons of tale-telling, from prehistoric campfires to the most modern re-filming of Hamlet, a skilled storyteller can still unearth from rich familial soil compelling insights about how humans love, the tortured ways in which people make decisions for themselves and others, and the unique difficulties of forgiveness and redemption where the most visceral and longstanding loves and grudges lie.
I’ve Loved You So Long, written and directed by Philippe Claudel, is a beautiful rumination on two sisters’ attempt at reconciliation following the elder’s return from a long, involuntary exile. Juliette Fontaine (Thomas) arrives at the home of her sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) in Lorraine, France after serving 15 years in prison for a mysterious crime against her own son. Léa, a young girl at the time of Juliette’s imprisonment, was forbidden by their parents from contacting Juliette and remembers very little of their childhood together. Fifteen years later, with her own family and a career as a teacher, Léa still nurses the wound of her imprisoned sibling like a missing limb and seizes the opportunity to rebuild their relationship by sheltering Juliette and helping to ease her back into society.
I’ve Loved You So Long finds its feet right out of the gate with an intentionally stumbling feel, capturing the disoriented awkwardness of Juliette’s and Léa’s initial meeting and the discomfort of Juliette’s inability to assimilate readily with a brother-in-law and two nieces she has never seen. As Juliette adapts to the domestic rhythms of her sister’s family and neighbors, seeing the unexpected potential for her own role as a beloved aunt and valued friend, small glimmers of hope suggest that there might be a way to begin anew. The whispery mystery of Juliette’s crime hangs over her, however, not only clouding her interactions with her new family but coiled in the grass prepared to strike at every budding connection with a potential friend, employer, or lover.
Léa’s patience and determination provide a fledgling safety net as Juliette begins to find her way, aided by a pair of kindred souls brought into Juliette’s life by circumstance: one a weary parole officer and estranged father lacking the energy or self-righteousness to judge Juliette; the other, Michel (Laurent Grevill), a teaching colleague of Léa who tentatively begins to pluck at the edges of Juliette’s veil of self-denial. As Michel, Grevill finds just the right tone of quiet acceptance as a sad-eyed, open-hearted intellectual who soon guesses a part of Juliette’s secret but still chooses to proffer a gentle romantic attention so long denied to Juliette.
All of the supporting players fit well, particularly Léa’s older daughter, P’tit Lys (Lise Ségur). The older of Léa’s two adopted Vietnamese children, P’tit Lys asks uncomfortable questions about Juliette’s long absence and latches on to Juliette for storytelling and piano instruction, both forcing the adults to confront the uncomfortable truths and creating a natural bridge for Juliette to fulfill an important family function in the present while re-visiting her precious childhood connection with her own younger sister.
The relationship between Juliette and Léa defines the narrative arc, however, and the wealth of scenes with Thomas and Zylberstein interacting carries the film to a higher place. In a career marked by subtle nuance, Thomas has never given a finer performance than the slow thaw of Juliette. Virtually muted by her own alienation, Juliette initially isolates herself through her monosyllabic responses and grim demeanor, but Thomas’s deft portrayal breathes life into Juliette as brushes with acceptance and love reveal hidden smiles and an excruciating vulnerability. While Thomas provides the primary character thread, Zylberstein’s work as Léa in the more traditional role of teacher, mother, wife, and nurturer anchors the film in much the same way her character provides a mooring for Juliette’s storm-tossed ship. Juliette enshrouds the film as a revenant emerging from a miasma of pain and regret, seeking to coalesce into some form that can successfully interact with the world in what is left of her life. In contrast, Léa provides the stabilizing hub of the whirling, humming spokes of family, colleagues and neighbors, at one moment a steady ing influence on her loving but grouchy husband, the next a giggling confidante in Juliette’s rebuilding efforts.
Claudel’s story is original and fresh in many ways, but what makes I’ve Loved You So Long such a special film is its rare take on two mature women learning to love each other a second time under challenging circumstances. Who knows where to assign the credit, and who cares. Thomas and Zylberstein take flight with Claudel’s words and imagery to capture the tentative connection between two women who faced such radically different paths in their lives, and yet were so indelibly linked that each offers the other an irreplaceable complement to her essence, if they can bridge the gap of understanding the actions and omissions of a loved one under extreme distress.
How the Pairing Held Up: Unimpeachably well-matched as paragons of deep character and complexity; to be savored in a quiet room.
Tastes Like: A sideways glance from Kristin Scott Thomas, the slightest upturn on her lips as she runs her index finger down your neck and arm. “Have you met my sister?” she begins ….
Overall Rating: Alterna-Verse Oscars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who plans to Léave his barstool to stalk Whit Stillman, now that someone has found Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.