Director: Claire Denis
Stars: Juliette Binoche, Gérard Depardieu, Xavier Beauvois
I’d like to start, a little recklessly, by talking about the last scene of the movie. I don’t feel like this will constitute what is normally referred to as a “spoiler”. Let The Sunshine In is a character piece and treatise on midlife love, and so it is not a story piloted by plot mechanics. If you’re not happy with me discussing this, well, you can stop reading, no?
Parisian artist Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) visits a medium to talk about the thing playing on her mind the most; will she find her true love? The medium is played by Gérard Depardieu, arriving late in the film as a wonderful surprise (okay, I’m sorry, I spoiled that). Denis frames him in close up and cuts between them, Binoche held in mid-shot (see above). They talk, and Depardieu’s medium gives his advice on Isabelle’s potential suitors. In the main, he tells her, simply, to remain “open”.
It’s a good, well-played scene, but what startles is that Denis rolls her credits through the action and dialogue. It happens so leisurely, so confidently, that it is extraordinarily easy to accept. The film’s warm, beautiful and jazzy score tinkles away behind it.
Ordinarily credits occurring over action – or worse, dialogue – are one of my biggest bugbears, disrespectful of the actors and the film at large. But here, it feels natural, even pleasant. The suggestion, one feels, is that there is no end. Sure, we’ve come to the end of the 91 minutes Denis has decided we will spend with Isabelle, but the gentle credits (appearing in large font) bring with them the suggestion that this is but a chapter. A snapshot. Isabelle will be okay. Not just because of the medium’s assurances. But because life – and love – continues.
Denis last film, Bastards, was a dark, often confounding noir (hated it first time, respected it a whole lot more the second time and since). By contrast Let The Sunshine In – as the title suggests – is a lighter, airy experience. It’s been dubbed a ‘romantic comedy’ in some quarters, though the associations this brings are a tad misleading.
Throughout this hour and a half, we spend time with Isabelle and a number of lovers. She is a divorcee and at a crossroads in her life. She has a 10 year-old daughter (rarely seen) and is, when we meet her, involved with a mean-spirited married man named Vincent (Xavier Beauvois). His evident deficiencies of character weigh her down, however, and ultimately she knows in her heart that their tryst has to end, even confessing to a friend that she can only reach orgasm with him by thinking poorly of him during sex.
Another suitor is a talented actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle), whom Isabelle has hopes for, but his taciturn nature, his indecisiveness, causes the burgeoning relationship to falter and the romance to die. Elsewhere, following a warm dance floor seduction, her attention is drawn toward Syvlain (Paul Blain)… until one of her peers casts doubt in her mind about his class. That Isabelle allows these thoughts to fester to the detriment of this new possibility is one of the saddest moments of the year so far.
If Let The Sunshine In sounds like little more than a series of dalliances, then its been mis-sold and I’m doing the film a disservice. This is an incisive and intelligent look at the ways in which people struggle to connect, how insecurities and worries create wedges, and the frustrating ways in which an inelegantly vocalised thought can create a tragic rift. There is comedy in that, in recognising self-sabotaging behaviour (intentional or otherwise), but it comes mixed with the pathos of life. Let The Sunshine In isn’t world-weary. On the contrary, it leaves the audience with a pleasing sense of optimism. But it does smile ruefully at the difficulties we create for ourselves.
Binoche is flawless, though the same cannot be said for her character, which is just as well, as this could easily have been a two-dimensional exhale of exasperation against so many insufficient men. Instead she’s a nuanced, complex mess as much as anyone presented here. Isabelle has a big heart, and its nice to see a female character unapologetically searching for the right fulfilling partner. We all get moody. We can all occasionally be callous. Isabelle’s humanity allow us to forgive these moments because we can readily recognise our own faults in Binoche’s naturalistic performance.
One might argue that Isabelle shouldn’t feel the need to complete herself by finding a partner, that there is an element of blindness to her endeavour that attracts these calamities. But she is self-aware enough to have acknowledged this, weighed the pros and cons, and decided on her path. Nevertheless, her visit to the medium at the film’s close also shows us that she is “open”. Sometimes you just need someone else to recognise who you are.