- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

“I’ve Loved You So Long” (“Il y a longtemps que je t’aime”) has more than a few things in common with another recent release, “Rachel Getting Married.”

Both films are about sisters reunited, to some degree reluctantly, after one is released from lockup (in “Loved,” it’s jail; in “Rachel,” it’s rehab). Both feature distant mothers who can’t - or won’t - understand their troubled daughters. Both tell us slowly about their characters’ pasts, eventually revealing that each unsettled woman caused the death of someone close to her. And both are garnering plenty of Oscar buzz for their lead actresses (Kristin Scott Thomas for “Loved” and Anne Hathaway for “Rachel”).

The comparisons are only superficial, though. While Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Getting Married” was a self-indulgent melodrama, French writer-director Philippe Claudel’s “I’ve Loved You So Long” is an elegant and moving family drama.

It’s obvious from the first moments that “Loved” is also, at its heart, a character study. We see the face of Juliette in unrelenting close-up. The usually glamorous Miss Scott Thomas wears no makeup; her clothes and face are both in various shades of gray. It’s clear she’s gone through some sort of tragedy and is nervous about what’s to come.

She’s picked up at the airport by her sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), whom she hasn’t seen in 15 years. Juliette committed some crime - we aren’t told what for some time - and their mother cut her off from the family entirely. Lea, though, has missed her sister and welcomes her into her Nancy home with open arms.

Lea’s husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) isn’t quite so friendly. His elderly father (Jean-Claude Arnaud) has lost his voice entirely, but Lea and Luc’s two children have no qualms about voicing their curiosity. The closed-up Juliette doesn’t satisfy it, though. She won’t even open up to her sympathetic parole officer (Frederic Pierrot, in a poignant performance). She is unsure even how to deal with the generosity of her sister - and one of her sister’s charming university colleagues, Michel (Laurent Grevill).

Miss Scott Thomas’s luminous turn in “The English Patient” was Oscar-nominated; she has an excellent chance of finally picking up that trophy next year. Her brave performance here as a woman whose tragedy is her inability to let anyone in is flawless. The English actress has been working more steadily in France these days (she was in this year’s thriller “Tell No One”), and it suits her.

Mr. Claudel, who first gained fame as a novelist in his native land, brings a rare depth of feeling to his directorial debut. The Oscar-winning Mr. Demme might be an old hand, but it seems he could learn a thing or two from this first-timer.

★★★½

TITLE: “I’ve Loved You So Long” (“Il y a longtemps que je t’aime”)

RATING: PG-13 (thematic material and smoking)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Philippe Claudel

RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes

WEB SITE: sonyclassics.com/ivelovedyousolong/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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