Director: Claire Denis
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Gérard Depardieu
Running Time: 1h 34m
Claire Denis, acclaimed director of White Material and the Palme d’Or nominated Chocolat, presents in her newest film Let the Sunshine In (Un beau Soleil Intérieur) a French romantic comedy that adapts Roland Barthes’ 1977 collection A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. The film follows divorced painter Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) as she experiences various romantic affairs and engagement, proving to be an arduous and taxing traverse. Isabelle fleets from experiencing new intimate relationships (with a colleague from work, a stranger at a jazz bar, a lost actor), to attempting to reunite with her ex-husband – presenting a fragmented picture of her desperate yearning for permanent companionship.
It can certainly be said that the narrative of this film does not hold a conventional structure like most romantic comedies that tend to begin with the meeting or catalyst of a relationship, the hook, a dark vulnerable moment, then finally the reconciliation. This is not necessarily a problem, many romantic comedies in the past have attempted to subvert this standard and opt for more non-linear narratives or attempt to reach out to other genres (Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind and (500) Days of Summer are formative examples of this). However, the deliberately lengthy, repetitive style of dialogue (attempting to give a raw, authentic feeling to the discourse between the characters), partnered with the ambiguity of the narrative and its frequent lack of context creates too much disruption that creates no emotional effect and evokes no feeling of sympathy or engagement with the protagonist. There is an irritating level of idiosyncrasy to the dialogue that feels too fragmented and doesn’t lend itself to the raw, passionate emotion the film ventures to evoke.
Gerard Depardieu’s cameo in the last scene of the film, playing a mysteriously ambiguous fortune teller is, frankly, quite bizarre. He suddenly appears out of nowhere, without context, and a strange scene ensues depicting a strenuous to and fro about Isabel’s past, present, and future love interests. If this scene seeks to add an air of mystery and thrill to the more realist aspects of the film, it is unsuccessful in doing so. This dialogue feels feeble and empty…drawing the film to a close with an even more irresolute picture of Juliette Binoche’s character.
Binoche plays the character with as much complexity as she can considering the repetitive and banal dialogue that pervades the film. From the opening scene, playing the vulnerability of her character with delicacy and spirit, to portraying her character’s most desperate, hopeless moments with immense zeal. Juliette Binoche’s performance does not disappoint, and only ads to her already spectacular body of work. What is irritating however, is that Binoche’s character is fairly two dimensional – represented as constantly needing a man, brooding and lamenting over her past and future lovers incessantly.
The cinematography of the film is perhaps its most complex and powerful quality. Agnes Godard, probably most recognised for her cinematography work on the 2012 Swiss drama Sister, starring Léa Seydoux, has had a long-running collaboration with Claire Denis, and in Let the Sunshine In creates a subtle pallet that beautifully acts as a stark contrast against the heavy emotional display in the film.
Overall, Claire Denis’ newest oeuvre was extremely disappointing. Only scratching the surface of building an enticing three-dimensional character at the forefront of the film, and failing to create an engaging cinematic experience. Ultimately, Denis presents a frustratingly ambiguous narrative that fails to achieve real breadth and depth in its exploration of its protagonist and her life. Thankfully Juliette Binoche’s performance was still magnificent despite all these flaws, as it certainly carried the film through its problematic and tiresome qualities.