Audacious, ungratuitous, and unsentimental, I've Loved You So Long (in French with English subtitles) is a very bounteous melodrama.
It helps immeasurably that this tale of recrimination and redemption has actress Kristin Scott Thomas in top form as Juliette, a woman trying to start her life anew after 15 years. The actress, who has worked with Prince, Hugh Grant, and Ralph Fiennes manifests much subtlety and power to a pallid woman seen at the outset in Nancy, an Eastern French city.
Juliette has brought upon much horror to herself and her college professor sister Lea, effectively played by Elsa Zylberstein. Though distant from Juliette, she continues to love her "so long", gradually being supportive in helping her getting a true grasp on living in society. The reproachful, reticient sister thus has a place to stay in her sister's home, as her and husband Luc, done with an air of hostility by Serge Hazanavicius, are raising two adopted Vietnamese daughters.
Director and scribe Phillippe Claudel allows the complexities to take hold working admirably from guilt through reconciliation. A ladder is symbolic for Juliette as she seems desperate at the outset but has the opportunity to get better even with plenty of obstacles as she becomes acclimated through a trial period ultimately in the same field as she once was in.
Lea and Luc also have his father (Jean-Claude Arnaud) under their roof as the speechless man is learning to read again after recovering from a stroke. Lea tries to keep Juliette's past from being outed, especially when a dinner party guest pesters her plain, laid back demeanor. She's also cursed by her Alzheimer's-afflicted mother (Claire Johnston) who resides in a nursing home.
With strong backup from Laurent Grevill and Frederic Pierrot as one of Lea's co-workers and a probation officer, respectively, I've Loved You So Long packs a palliative punch when it comes to the idea of figurative and literal incarceration.
Claudel wisely tampers down the flareups on screen, as one character understandably tries to relieve the hurt. His prolocutor is Scott Thomas who showed much finesse as a sapphic, trusting character in the recent French thriller Tell No One. There's a fluency (like her crisp accent) to her riveting tour-de-force that makes this picture gel and register with its many motifs. Some may feel entrapment and shocked when watching her, but perhaps for the better knowing where she ends up.