Sometimes a great performance can save a mediocre movie, and sometimes even the most accomplished bit of acting flounders in the face of awkward writing and direction. The latter is mostly the case in I’ve Loved You So Long, a soppy melodrama with a strong lead performance from Kristin Scott Thomas, who pours everything she has into the part of ex-convict Juliette, out on parole after 15 years in prison for a crime that remains unnamed for much of the movie (although it’s clearly serious if she spent so much time inside).
Juliette moves in with her sister, brother-in-law and two nieces, and tries to adjust to life on the outside while still dealing with the emotional consequences of her crime. Writer-director Claudel holds information back illogically until it can be released at the most conveniently devastating moment, but his plotting almost always feels schematic rather than illuminating. The dialogue is often full of blunt declarations of intent even as facts remain obscured, but Thomas’ delivery of such blatantly manipulative pieces of sap consistently rises above the material.
When we finally learn what Juliette did to land her in prison, it’s a disappointing cop-out that doesn’t quite make sense. But Thomas’ convincing portrayal of anguish almost makes it believable anyway; she conveys so much with her facial expressions that the dialogue is often superfluous. It’s still there, though, and as much as Thomas transcends her typically reserved, austere presence, it’s not quite enough to give the movie the emotional weight it so desperately reaches for.