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i've loved you so long:
a movie review
by candy green gustavson

A wonder of our local WalMart is the Red Box machine near the entrance. For one dollar you can rent an overnight movie. The selection isn't the greatest, but it does the job most of the time. The only annoying part is sometimes having to wait in line watching people take their time making a selection. Recently, after I had waited for my turn, I selected "I've Loved You So Long," a French film starrting the British actress, Kristin Scott Thomas.

I like the acting of Kristin Scott Thomas. Married to a Frenchman, she has, of late, been choosing roles that have her speaking French. I like the scale of European films for the same reason I prefer literary fiction: both reveal, through the simplicity of everyday living, the drama of our interior lives. This is the dramatic scale I prefer living in and enjoy reflecting upon. For me, the closest an American film has come to presenting this dynamic is "The Station Agent," filmed in New Jersey. Because I am so involved working with women in prison, all my "likes" were combined when I came across "I've Loved You So Long."

In this movie directed by Philippe Claudel, Juliette---presented at the start of the film by a wan and bravely make-upless Scott Thomas---has just been released from prison. We don't know why Juliette was incarcerated for 15 years, but in slow revelations, as we see Juliette adjust to life on the outside, we come to know that it is for the murder of her six year-old son. Later in the film we also find out that Juliette was a doctor who, following a painful divorce, discovered her son had a crippling and fatal disease.

Juliette, we learn, kidnapped her son and on one of his better days, after he had written a lovely poem, Juliette decided to end his life before he deteriorated further. We are not told how she did this; however, we are gripped by its horror as the director lets us absorb Juliette's slow and painful re-entrance into the freedom of society coming at her with its casual and light-hearted questions and banter.

Before the full revelation of Juliette's crime we encounter the delights of French home, city, and country life in Nancy, a city in the northeast of France. We meet two busy and happy families: Juliette's sister, her husband and adopted children, as well as an immigrant family, a Middle-eastern doctor, his wife and children. These appealing characters, along with their loving acceptance of Juliette, help us to identify with Juliette's loss and isolation.

In the middle of the story we are introduced to a university professor, a family friend, whose wife was killed, years earlier, in an automobile accident. As he and Juliette become friends we learn he volunteered in a prison as a way of working out his grief. We see her begin to trust again. By the end of the story, we experience a hope she may find love again in her future.

I can't remember if the movie was filmed in color or black and white. This pleases me as the film's lasting impression is one of light playing with shadow, especially on the sculpted face of Juliette/Scott Thomas. The film's pace is slow. The story is revealed in almost theatrical sections as the screen goes dark before the story moves forward.

This is a movie with many layers and references: to architecture, to the arts and literature---especially Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment"---to lifestyle, including the dynamics of immigration, as well as medical ethics. The title of the film, "I've Loved You So Long" can refer to many of the people in Juliette's life: her son, her sister---even her mother who we meet in a brief scene in a nursing home.

While watching Kristin Scott Thomas present Juliette's adjustment to life "on the outside," contrasts and comparisons to the incarcerated ladies I visit weekly in the prison's Education Department became apparent. The differences are many.

Unlike Juliette, only a few of the women I see have education beyond high school. However, those who make it to the Education Center can earn their GEDs. Unlike Juliette, many serve out their full terms because they have no homes to be parolled to---unlike Juliette, there is no one who is willing to take a chance on them. Most of their crimes are foolish ones involving drugs, forgery, credit card theft, robbery. Many are the result of a relationship with a man. Some caused accidents resulting in death. Only a few have murdered another human being.

The similiarities are few. Juliette was able to find decent work in a hospital. She was able to find an apartment and establish a new life. Most women released from prison today will be back behind bars in three years.

These similarities and differences don't make the film unrealistic. Many women in prison choose not to make friends or join in any activities. Out of a prison population of 1300, perhaps only 300 choose to make their way to the Education Department. Most will do whatever duty they are assigned, keep their heads down, do what they are told and wait while time passes.

I am not sure the Juliette of "I've Loved You So Long" would have come to the Education Department. I think she would be in a room, silent behind the slats of the tiny windows I see on my way back out into the world.


late bloomer, fontanelle of the baby boomers...full of hope, believing in life-long learning, mentoring, doors opening...mother of four, grandma of one: I cultivate gardens in both hemispheres of earth and brain...

more about candy green gustavson


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