There are moments in filmgoing when you know unmistakably that something is nestling its way into your personal pantheon: this is how I feel about Juliette Binoche’s performance in Let The Sunshine In, the latest from the superb Claire Denis.
Binoche is Isabelle, a deeply unhappy Parisian artist. Divorced and convinced that her love life is finished, Isabelle meets a number of men, some of whom are plainly (and comically) unsuitable, others seem promising but arrive at exactly the wrong time in her life. What makes the portrayal memorable (aside from Agnès Godard’s beautifully sensitive cinematography) is that she plays Isabelle in search of happiness and contentment, but she’s unable to make the circumstances fit her desires.
Just as she’s on the cusp of some romantic victory, she sabotages it; her endless, rigorous self-analysis won’t allow anything to appear strained or half-hearted. So Isabelle yearns for love, but cannot yield the self-consciousness to be in a lover’s presence, and Binoche expresses this contradiction movingly.
Denis and her screenwriters have taken as inspiration A Lover’s Discourse (1977), a strange compendium of literary love complaints, written by Roland Barthes. Each man who finds himself in Isabelle’s life acts as a dramatisation of a problem from within the text: there’s Vincent (Xavier Beauvois), the assertive and self-possessed banker; the disaffected actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle); the ex-husband François (Laurent Grévil); the sensitive Sylvain (Paul Blain); and the reassuring gallerist (Denis regular Alex Decas).
Let The Sunshine In ends with a screamingly brilliant final scene (over which the credits play), featuring a French screen legend who turns up in order to provide Isabelle with some kind of psychic reading. It’s also a woefully poor act of flirtation, and she knows it, but somehow his words are affirmative, even uplifting. The camera looks at Isabelle, toing and froing between quiet weeping and wide-eyed smiling, and this soothing feeling washes over you. One of the films of the year so far.
Image: Curzon Artificial Eye