I’ve Loved You So Long (2008, France) Il y a longtemps que je t’aime


March 3:  The DVD has come out.  For those who don’t like to read subtitles, the DVD has an English Version with Kristin Scott Thomas voicing her own part.  But nothing compares to the original of course. 

Feb. 8  I’ve Loved You So Long has just won the BAFTA for Best Film Not In The English Lanugage tonight in London, England.

Dec. 11:  I’ve Loved You So Long has just been nominated for two Golden Globes, Best Foreign Film and Best Actress (Drama) for Kristin Scott Thomas.

Sisters reuniting is the storyline of several movies recently, as in Margot At The Wedding (2007) and Rachel Getting Married (2008 ).  But both Nicole Kidman and Anne Hathaway are just featherweights compared to Kristin Scott Thomas’s powerful performance here in I’ve Loved You So Long.


Winner of the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival, I’ve Loved You So Long is the  directorial debut of Philippe Claudel, French novelist, screenwriter, and professor of literature at The University of Nancy.  It is unfortunate that festival films like this one are rarely shown in North America, except in major selective cities.  I’ve wanted to see the film for a while, but not until my trip to Vancouver last week did I have the chance to watch it in a theatre.

In the film, the reunion of the sisters comes under the most unusual of circumstances.  Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, 1996) plays Juliette, an older sister who has just been released on parole after 15 years in prison.  She rejoins society to the  embrace of her younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein).  Léa was only a young teenager when her much older sister was disowned by their parents.  To them, the crime she had committed was unforgivable.   Léa was told to ostracize Juliette, as the rest of the family did.   Now years later, Léa is teaching literature at a university, and  mature enough to reconnect the tie that binds.   She receives Juliette  into her own home, a warm family with a loving husband, two adopted Vietnamese girls, and her father-in-law Papy Paul (Jean-Claude Arnaud), who has lost his ability to speak after a stroke.  But her husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) is apprehensive, and understandably so.

Like the viewers, Léa is kept in the dark as to the details of the act Juliette had done , a secret that is painfully borne by Juliette alone.  The slow unfolding of the facts thus sets the stage for the heart-wrenching performance by Scott Thomas.  The film is an exploration into the nature of good and evil, love and forgiveness.  In our society that excels in labeling people, the writer/director leads us to ponder the questions of what constitutes a crime, who are the victims, likewise, who are the strong, the helpers, and who are those that need help?  How can we truly know each other?  And ultimately, what is love?


I admire that the elegant Oscar nominated actress Scott Thomas was willing to take up a role that would cast her against type, and to work under a first-time director.  Devoid of  make-up, her gaunt and haunted look,  deep set eyes and languid lids, and the high cheek bones that used to speak of beauty in her other films now form the epitome of a soul tormented.  Her icy demeanor reflects a guarded self that is too wounded to risk another blow.  Though released from physical confinement, Juliette is still imprisoned by her own guilt, and has to serve a  life sentence of torments from the ambivalence of her act.  Scott Thomas has poignantly portrayed a believable character and effectively created a tragic heroine.  Juliet is out of prison, has nowhere to go, lost to herself and the world.

Yet love paves the road to redemption, and courage is the building block.  While Léa plays a major part in reaching out to Juliette, her adopted daughters and even the silent Papy Paul have all unknowingly participated  in the healing process. It is his silence and the calming effect of his books that Juliette finds affinity.  In sharing the French children’s song ‘Il y a longtemps que je t’aime’ with Léa’s adopted daughter P’tit Lys (Lise Ségur), she ventures out to reconnect in a meaningful way.

Léa also invites Juliette into her circle of friends, in particular, her colleague Michel (Laurent Grévill).  Michel has spent some time teaching in a prison.  He reaches out to Juliette with his understanding and compassion, and shares with her the enjoyment of art.  Although he does not know the full details of her circumstances, he respects her humanity and offers his friendship, even when Juliette is not ready to receive.  He patiently waits.

Engrossing and intense, the film nonetheless offers a satisfying experience.  Even though I was able to guess the nature of the dark secret underlying the suspense, such that it has lessened the effect of surprise on me at the end, I still find the film thoroughly enjoyable, in particular, the superb acting from both sisters.  For those who associate tears with melodramatic and contrived effects, the film is an apt refutation of such a view.  Tears are most welcome and cathartic as a closure here after almost 90 minutes of elliptical restraint,  for they are  the very expression of reconciliation and redemption.  The climax is one of the most poignant I’ve seen in a long while, and the subsequent ending, a triumph.

I look forward to more of Claudel’s work.  And for Kristin Scott Thomas, I think she deserves no less than an Oscar for her performance.

~ ~ ~ ½ Ripples


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

15 thoughts on “I’ve Loved You So Long (2008, France) Il y a longtemps que je t’aime”

  1. Thanks to your review, I chose this movie on a long flight and thought it was fantastic. Thanks!

    Well Cathy, thanks for letting me know. It’s comment like yours that makes it worthwhile to write reviews. Also, another way to rate movies: if someone watches it on a plane and still thinks it’s good, then it must be really good. Watch for the DVD coming out in a week’s time. It’s worth watching again, this time in the quiet of your own home.



  2. I am in awe the way you write,beautiful language, you say the exact things i think but cannot express. Like you said i have to sit alone in my house and watch it again . Thanks for taking the time to write.

    P Mohan,

    Thank you for your very kind words. For me, the resonance is a result of a chord being struck, deeply and movingly. I’m grateful for your encouraging comment.



  3. I’ve been wanting to see this film since reading your review, and was finally able to do so this past weekend. I absolutely loved it. Ms. Scott Thomas performance is heart-wrenching indeed, and I find the young actress playing P’tit Lys delightful. I read your review again and am amazed at how insightful and perceptive you are. Thanks for recommending this film, I look forward to seeing it again on DVD.


    Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you find my review helpful. Too bad the film doesn’t get acknowledged as it deserves here in N. America. I eagerly await some other films with KST. Hopefully we get the chance to see ‘Easy Virtue’, for which she got nominated for a BAFTA and a London Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress.


  4. Thanks Arti, I’ve been longing to see the film, and last time at the Asian Premiere here in HK international film fest, (and the presence of director Philippe Claudel — shame we didn’t get to take pictures), the film was shown to a full house.

    I agree that it’s the silent restraints of the sisters that make the acting so subtle, and with the powerhouse performances of KST and Elsa Z…I can also understand that this may not be the ‘favorite’ at the Oscars. I’ve noticed that the ‘best actresses’ in recent years tend to be of standout natures…from very vocal (Roberts, Cotillard); to women of certain stature in history (Theron as Wournos, Kidman as Woolf, and Mirren as the Queen)…etc. Being ‘silent’ and ‘understated’ and ‘kept within oneself’ may be somewhat too subtle to be noticed at all…

    I especially find the “telephone” scene near the end a powerful one…with Lea on the phone, and in the background her little daughter (VO) reading the story aloud…while the mother broke out into tears.

    I truly like this movie, and hope that people who have not seen it will do so. For a debut I’ve Loved You So Long is simply too good to miss.



    What a bonus to have the director present at the screening! I sure would like to hear him talk about the making of his debut film. Yes, the telephone scene was most riveting, with P’tit Lys whispering her story as VO in the background, which is almost a parallel narrative of reality. That was brilliant. I also like the ending too, marvelous scriptwriting. Thanks for sharing your personal response.



  5. (Spoiler Alert)

    I’ve never witness such a huge response to a film like I did for ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’; not ever in Hong Kong.

    Two rounds of applause, before the credits came up, then again, after the credits rolled off. Two third of the audience (circle, balcony and upper balcony) stayed until it faded to black and the curtains drawn. Some still lingered on in their seats, savoring this powerful, moving French drama about love, loss, shame and redemption.

    Kristen Scott-Thomas plays Juliette, the Absent One is nothing less than brilliant. I don’t think anybody can portray this role so vividly and sensitively as she does. As quoted, Juliette said: ‘The worse of prison is losing your child; you’d never get out of it….’ One can relate to Juliette’s loss & love for her son and the dark moments she endures. This thoughtful, provocative film is slow developing because it’s all about character.

    Writer/director Philippe Claudel sure knows how to capture his audience, all those short scenes, no more than 3 minutes each, create an atmosphere of mystery and dread to the story. By dipping to black between scenes & fading up of guitar chords as transition, the audience is craving for more as the story unfolds. I love Glaudel’s way & tone of story-telling, hats off to the cast & production crew.

    My only regret is the distraction of the 2 lines of subtitles (both English & Chinese), wish I could speak French. I’d love to see ILYSL again…..

    Molly Mavis,

    Thank you for your heartfelt response. You know, the fact that this film and KST’s acting is so under-rated, well here in N. Am. anyway, is almost an injustice, a discredit to the Oscars. I’m glad to hear it has struck a universal chord in that it’s so well received in HK. Thanks for your thorough comment.



  6. Just came here from the comment you left on my blog.

    Great review!

    I must say, though, that you are much cleverer than I am, because I only had a very, very vague idea of what the “dark secret underlying the suspense” was. I had guessed that it was something that the audience would be able to understand; something that we wouldn’t be repelled by, but I had no idea of specifics.

    I think the writer/director has done a marvellous job in revealing it bit by bit, and, at the same time, depicting so poignantly through the scene sequences the melting of Juliette… it’s utterly gratifying at the very end. Thanks for your own review too and for coming here and leaving your response.



  7. I just switched on the tv and entered maybe halfway into this extraordinarily sensitive story unfolding in its unique European French style. In South Africa we are surrounded by abnormal high levels of violence, farm murders,divorce, poverty next to extreme wealth to the degree that our humanity has become numbed. Why the film was such a surprise was because we seldom see anything but brash Americanism on our national tv. To find out more about the film I went onto the internet and found your Crit and yes. How wonderful to read your sensitive review. Thak you. Salome.


    1. Salome,

      Welcome! I’m glad you found me… and thank you so much for your kind words.

      Yes, this is one of my all time best loved movies, and no surprise that Kristin Scott Thomas one of my favourite actors. Thank you for sharing what you’re seeing in South Africa. I truly believe that through films and literature, we can be more in touch with who we are and what we should be. I wish more films like this one will be produced and that viewers will not be numbed, as you say, and discard art and sensitive depictions of the human condition. Again, thank you for visiting and leaving your comment.

      BTW, you really should try to catch this film again to watch it from the beginning. It deserves multiple viewings.


  8. Can’t wait to take this out out now, I loved her acting in The English Patient and know how well the French excel at intense, moving drama. It may not make a splash in Hollywood, but always good to be in the know.

    What often happens when a film like this is more popular worldwide and not so in the US (because of the subtitles), is that they elect to remake it in Hollywood, like they are currently doing with Intouchables, which had a small viewing in the US compared to an astronomical viewing worldwide!

    I’m with you, I love to see a film in the original language and here in France that sometimes requires me having to comprehend two languages, I remember the woman at the cinema asking me if I was sure I wanted a ticket when I went to see Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution. It’s in Chinese she said, meaning Chinese with French subtitles. No problem I replied. 🙂 And it was magnificent just as it was.


    1. Claire,

      Oh… one post leads to another, and to another. That’s what’s amazing with blogging and online contacts. Here, if you’re again interested, is my take on Lust, Caution, the original story in Chinese, the English translation, and the movie. 😉


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