Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for disturbing themes
Run Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes. In English with French subtitles
Kristin Scott Thomas delivers gold in this moody French classic.
Scott Thomas is Juliette, newly arrived at her sister Léa’s home (Elsa Zylberstein) from a place we mustn’t discuss. Her brother-in-law isn’t pleased, resisting the emotional warp and woof of his wife’s family crises.
Little by little the disquieting details are revealed – Juliette has spent the last fifteen years in prison on a murder charge. Who did she murder and why did she do it? The undercurrent of tragedy is probing and persistent.
The essence of writer/director Philippe Claudel’s understated drama is the unspoken – resentment, fear and a fierce desire to make amends. Juliette is out of her element, struggling mightily to find her place in a world that has rejected her for all the right reasons. It’s a painstaking process – rebuilding sibling bonds, strumming the ancient stirrings of desire (with Léa’s co-worker) and fighting to forget forget forget.
To say that Scott Thomas is a revelation is an understatement – every wisp of heartache is etched onto her careworn but glorious face. She inherits Juliette’s emotional isolation with aloof appeal, significant in its lilting crescendos of hope and despair.
Newcomer Claudel draws out the dramatic elements with great poise, ardently wedded to his central character’s pride and caressing her with the professional affection of a director with ten times the experience.
The climatic disclosure, when it comes, is a moving one. All in all a haunting and redemptive film experience.