Let the Sunshine In (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): As she searches for love

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Life can be pretty disappointing especially when you are looking for someone to love you, and French film “Let the Sunshine In” examines that undeniable fact of life with considerable amount of humor, intelligence, and sensitivity. Closely observing the ups and downs in its heroine’s frustrating pursuit of love and happiness, the movie alternatively amuses and touches you via a series of nice intimate moments, and it surely earns its tentative optimism in the end as making us reflect on life and love for a while.

Juliette Binoche, a great French actress who has always impressed us with her natural grace and exceptional talent, plays a middle-aged artist named Isabelle, and the opening scene of the movie shows her in the middle of the sex with her current boyfriend Vincent (Xavier Beauvois, who is mainly known as the director of “Of Gods and Men” (2010)), a married banker who has had an affair with her for some time. While both of them try as much as they can for more intimacy and pleasure for them, they do not feel that satisfied when their copulation is eventually over, and Isabelle’s frustration feels palpable to us when the camera looks closely at her face.

And she keeps becoming dissatisfied and disappointed with her lover, who is gradually revealed to be your average self-centered prick. When she comes to his office at one point, Isabelle demands more attention and affection from him, but he only evades her demand while never getting closer to her, and his selfish attitude to her culminates to another level during one amusing scene unfolded at a bar. While quite fastidious about what he drinks (he even demands ‘gluten-free olive’, by the way), he flatly tells her why he cannot possibly leave his wife despite being in love with Isabelle, and he even impertinently suggest that they continue to meet each other as before. As the camera of cinematographer Agnès Godard fluidly moves back and forth between Isabelle and Vincent, the movie slowly presents the wryly humorous aspect of their situation, and Binoche and Beauvois are effortless as their characters pull and push each other behind the surface.

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Eventually, Isabelle decides to end her relationship with Vincent, but, alas, it looks like there are not many good guys around her. At one point, she comes to have a dinner with an actor whom she is interested in working with, and this dude seems to be attracted to her as talking a lot about himself and his failing married life, but then he is not so eager to move onto the next step when he later takes her to her residence. Isabelle tries to get more response from him, but he keeps preventing himself from saying what he really wants, and this certainly frustrates her a lot.

Anyway, they come to have sex when they finally come into her residence together, but he subsequently tells Isabelle that he cannot continue their relationship, and that gives us another amusing moment in the film. As the camera looks at them from the distance, we sense how awkward he is as struggling to express his thoughts and feelings clearly to her – and how much she is disappointed again.

Meanwhile, there is a nerdy guy whom Isabelle often comes across at a local fish shop. He is evidently interested in getting closer to her when he suggests that she should spend some time in his cozy place outside Paris, but she is not attracted to him at all, and she finds herself getting closer to her ex-husband instead, who, not so surprisingly, comes to disappoint her in the end despite the considerable familiarity between them.

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Later in the story, she goes to an art event held outside Paris, and that is where she comes across a guy who is seemingly plain but somehow attracts her attention. As Etta James’s “At Last” is played in the background, something seems to click between them, and she looks as if she were having the happiest moment in her life, but there soon comes harsh reality as she is later reminded of how much they are different from each other as having no particular common ground between them.

While frequently amusing us with this series of ups and downs in her love life, the movie is also quite sincere and serious about its heroine’s growing doubt about her life. As experiencing disappointment again and again, Isabelle comes to wonder whether there is not any opportunity for real love during her current stage of life, and the finale shows her trying something rather irrational for dealing with her anxiety. I will not describe this moment in detail for not spoiling your entertainment, but I can tell you instead that I admire how director Claire Denis, who adapted “Fragments d’un discours amoureux” by Roland Barthes with her co-writer Christine Agnot for her film, pulls out something unexpectedly funny and sublime from this moment, and Binoche and a certain famous French performer did a terrific job during this moment.

Although it is relatively less impressive than her recent memorable works such as “35 Shots of Rhum” (2008) and “White Material” (2010), “Let the Sunshine In”, which received the SACD Prize at the Directors’ Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival early in last year, is another interesting work from Denis, and I was entertained by its lightweight mood and sensitive moments. To be frank with you, love is still something too abstract for me, but the movie gave me some insights to appreciate, and I am grateful for that.

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