Claire Denis remains one of the most robust and fascinating female directors working today. Able to navigate horror, drama, romance, comedy and arthouse without much difficulty, she’s yet to make an uninteresting film. One thread that runs through her films are how sensory they are and this film is no exception as it explores the romantic failings of Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), a middle-aged artist looking for love.
The film opens with sexual tenderness turned bitter as Isabelle finds herself emotionally distraught over the affair she is having that seems to be leading nowhere. While sex is often depicted as a deeply sensory and emotional experience, the intensities of these experiences don’t always lead to where Isabelle hopes.
Partly this is because there’s a vulnerability she opens herself to with these experiences that often seems to be rebuffed by the men around her, whether that’s through seeing her as disposable or rationalizing that the sex was a mistake. Being in love, making love, and finding love are all three distinct things in Let the Sunshine In and Isabelle has a hard time finding someone who can fulfill all three.
The film plays as a comedy of errors, not so much that the film is a series of jokes to amuse the audience, but that throughout the film Isabelle finds herself going from bad circumstance to bad circumstance and somehow must find the strength to persist. Her ability to look past the tragedy of these relationships and to continue to hold out for love instead of doomed gives the film glimmers of hope in a series of otherwise bleak situations.
Juliette Binoche brings a lot of this nuance to bear in her performance. She’s able to navigate the deep sorrow of moment mixed with a biting humor about it, as if she’s the brunt of the cosmic joke that is love. A lesser actor would come across as too bitter or too romantic, but Binoche is able to capture how the quest for love is often a mix of these emotions a resentment of what might of been but a hope of what might be.
It would be easy to blow off Claire Denis’ latest film as far less important than more of her more political and abrasive works, but that is the kind of unfair assessment left to those who think dark and cynical automatically makes a work more mature. Denis has made a deeply mature and adult film about love without shoving it full of cynicism and bleakness. There is the sting of failed love and the swooning of new love’s promise which captures the true breadth of the deeply human quest to love and be loved.
© James Blake Ewing 2018