Friday, May 29, 2009

I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime) -- murder and mercy

Director: Philippe Claudel, 2008.

I've Loved You so Long is writer-director Claudel's debut film and a fine French film it is. It is slow but filled with a storyline that develops at a perfect pace, giving out information little by little until it drops a bombshell at the end. It is a drama that is full of pathos and charm.

Kristin Scott Thomas gives a marvellous performance as Juliette Fontaine, a woman just released from prison and coming to stay with her younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein). We know that Juliette was incarcerated for murder and spent 15 years in jail, but other characters don't know this.

Throughout her years in prison, Juliette remained alone and aloof. She received no letters, had no visitors. She was forgotten by her friends, written off by her sister, expunged by her parents. Those she needed the most turned away from her. Only at the end did her sister come to visit and agree to take her into her home.

Léa's husband, Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), is not thrilled. Having a murderer for a sister-in-law is one thing. Having her share your roof, knowing your two young children could be in danger, is another matter. He is fine with his stroke-muted father Papa Paul (Jean-Claude Arnaud) being an awkward house-dweller, but Juliette is a convicted criminal.

Claude's drama lets us experience the prejudices that surely a released convict must encounter. When Juliette looks for work, she cannot hide her background nor escape its consequence. People fear killers. Yet having paid the price demanded by society, justice has been fulfilled. She is still a human being. She still retains some dignity. All of us have gone astray in some way; all of us have sinned. None is left innocent. Paul makes this clear in his scathing indictment of humanity in Romans 3:1-21. God could treat us all in the same manner that Juliette is treated by her would-be employers. Yet he doesn't. Instead, God provides a way for us to be judged not-guilty. He provides Jesus as our penalty-bearer. He takes our place, and we can take his rightness (2 Cor. 5:21).

In a role distinctly unpretty, Thomas still evokes the fragility and neediness of a soul unknowingly desperate for contact. But contact is something Juliette avoids, both physically and emotionally. She is cold and distant, silent and withdrawn. She spends hours simply sitting, smoking and staring out of windows. We get a glimpse into the toll of 15 years behind bars, staring out of a cell window. Her bitterness at the abandonment by her family causes her to shield herself from further disappointment.

Claude's drama also highlights the complexity of family dynamics. Whn Juliette joins this family, she finds the air filled with tension. Only in the presence of Papa Paul, another social outcast (due to his inability to speak), does she let down and feel some acceptance. Misfits tend to embrace misfits. Perhaps they understand the difficulty of acceptance. Yet, how much better to realize that we are misfits in one way or another, and show acceptance to those around us. This is what Jesus did for the lepers and the lame, the blind and the beggars. We should do likewise.

As the movie progresses, Juliette's protective shell begins to melt and very carefully she opens up to those around her. Part of this is the presence of the two nieces. Children are so precious in this way. We can hardly help but love these little ones. Only the hardest heart would remain stony cold in the presence of loving and accepting kids. Juliette is no exception.

Léa's act of mercy allowing Juliette to come back to her home gives Juliette a second chance at family, reuniting two sisters who had been close friends as children. As Juliette seizes this second chance some truths of her past and her crime surface. When they do, we wonder what the true cost of mercy is.

When the film concludes, we see Juliette for who she really is. The shocking truth paints a far different picture than we have been led to believe. It leaves us thinking about sin and grace and mercy. We are all capable of despicable acts. Indeed, we may all be capable of murder in our most furious rages. But oh what great mercy beckons us from our Lord Jesus Christ. What grace he offers before we descend this pit of hell. In the words of John Bradford, "There but for the grace of God, go I."

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

No comments:

Post a Comment