kristian scott thomas makes an incredible transformation from the supporting character that she played in "tell know one" to become juliette of "i've loved you so long." it's an outstanding, haunted, cigarette smoke-filled, and decidedly french performance from an actress clearly at home on the screen in two languages and their respective idioms. even the facile hollywood ending doesn't diminish her otherwise powerful performance, nor that of elsa zylberstein, as juliette's sister, léa.
be forewarned, this review contains plenty of spoilers. the film opens with juilette waiting for her sister to pick her up. juilette is smoking a cigarette, alone at a tiny white plastic table in some anonymous airport lounge, as we see her sister rushing to meet her (obviously a bit late). but after 15 years in prison, what are a few minutes here or there? their initial encounter - including the awkward embrace and lea's first stab at drawing her sister into tentative conversation - sets the stage. even juilette's tightly knotted overcoat helps paint the image of a woman clearly not in the mood to open up - either now, or later.
as to be expected, the film progresses toward that sister-sister rapprochement, and juilet's eventual opening back up to life itself. along the way, the film provides some wonderful acting and imagery. lea's 8 year old adopted daughter does her part to draw out her aunt. some of the film's most interesting moment's are those innocent 8-year old questions posed to mother, father and aunt as the story progressed. and it's during niece's impromptu piano lessons with her aunt that she learns even more about her own mom - including that her mom plays the piano. the inevitable sisters' keyboard duet is priceless - especially with the p’tit lys' dance to punctuate their relived memories!
all is not sweet, however. the late night drunken interrogation of juilette by boorish member of the dinner party is fraught with tension. tension broken by the only answer that could possibly fit - "i was in prison for 15 years for murder" - to finally silence his obnoxious rant of questions. everyone (except for her family, and one knowing soul) thought this was merely a well timed joke to silence her tormentor! and, then there were her efforts to make good in society - the job hunt and her transition back to work as a medical records technician in a hospital. the director's interview mid-way thru the probabtionary period - where he haltingly tried to tell her that some of her co-workers are uncomfortable around her....
but the real shocker - and i'll admit that it caught me totally off guard - was the suicide of her parole officer! for some strange reason this entire scene (which was built up to by an awkward series of parolee check-ins that started at his office then eventually moved out to cafes - and played up another aspect of her opening up to someone, albeit grudgingly at first) reminded me of "ordinary people." specifically, the scene where timothy hutton learned his friend (from the psychiatric ward) had committed suicide and it triggers his cathartic break, and a middle of the night rush to his therapist, judd hirsch.
while juilette's shocked reaction to the news was not as dramatic as conrad's, it nevertheless opened the door to the story's resolution. a slip of paper - the ancient medical report and a 6 year old's tentative poetry scrawled on it - set in motion lea's detective work. she learns (realizes) that the murder was no murder - in the cold-blooded sense. instead, it was a mercy killing. the sisters come to grips with the truth in a powerful, shout - then tear-filled scene. but one can't help but feel disappointed at this news.
the first question that struck me - are we to believe that juilette's grief was so encompassing - and her family, attorney and medical professionals so clueless - that the truth of her son's dire medical condition wouldn't have surfaced earlier? much earlier, as in mitigating circumstance introduced at her trial for murder? this is the kind of secret that makes me wonder - huh? it's even more disappointing when contrasted with lea's literary tirade against one of her students in a round-table discussion of dostoevsky's crime and punishment! how can raskolnikov and his redemption thru suffering find it's way onto the screen, and then we're given this outcome?! talk about bait and switch!
but, even with an ending that quaintly tied up the all the loose ends, and gave a moral justification to her otherwise barbaric action, the film is definitely worth seeing! don't miss it.