Let the Sunshine In

June 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Philippe Katerine
Directed by: Claire Denis (“White Material”)
Written by: Claire Denis (“Basterds”) and Christine Angot (debut)

Unless you’re a female character in a Nicholas Sparks novel or an attractive actress under 40, chances are that Hollywood studios aren’t very interested in what goes on in your love life. While there are always exceptions — 2009’s “It’s Complicated” and 2011’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” are two examples — the rarity of these stories is no secret in the industry.

Consider this: In a 2015 sketch on Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer,” comedian Amy Schumer teamed up with actresses Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette to mock what she referred to as an actress’ “Last Fuckable Day” — a time in an actress’ life when the media decides she is not “fuckable” anymore.

It’s notable, then, that in the opening scene of Juliette Binoche’s new romantic dramedy “Let the Sunshine In,” the 54-year-old Oscar-winning actress’ character is having sex. This doesn’t prove, however, that Hollywood is comfortable portraying a middle-aged woman in an uninhibited scene like this. “Let the Sunshine In,” in fact, is a French foreign language film and, as most cinephiles know, sexuality in French cinema is not a taboo subject, which is probably why someone like Gérard Depardieu is still flashing his ass well into his 60s.

Co-written and directed by Claire Denis (“White Material”), “Let the Sunshine In” is an impassioned and oftentimes frustrating examination into the empty relationships pursued by Isabelle (Binoche), an artist looking for love and striking out at every turn. There’s nothing romantic about Isabelle’s desperate attempts to keep a man or to watch a handful of suitors string her along.

“I’ll never leave my wife,” one of the married men she is sleeping with tells her. “You’re charming, but my wife is extraordinary.”

Although Isabelle finally pulls the plug on that specific “backstreet lover,” it’s difficult to understand Denis’ intentions with a narrative that becomes more maddening with every idealistic move Isabelle makes to find true happiness. Denis and Binoche capture the dissatisfaction Isabelle feels and the inconsistent nature of her character, but at what price? At one point, Denis wants audiences to believe Isabelle is a free-thinking, independent woman, but then allows her to digress into this needy, self-pitying doormat at the drop of a hat.

We’ll give Denis the benefit of the doubt and call Isabelle an intricately written character, but there’s an undiagnosed Cinderella complex happening in “Let the Sunshine In” that Denis doesn’t want to confront. The screenplay is aimless, but Binoche works with what she’s given and provides a subtly neurotic performance of a conflicted woman who desires undesirable men. Like Isabelle’s relationships, “Let the Sunshine In” is mostly unsatisfying, but Binoche — even when she flickers — is a ray of light.

White Material

March 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Nicolas Duvauchelle
Directed by: Claire Denis (“35 Shots of Rum”)
Written by: Claire Denis (“35 Shots of Rum”) and Marie N’Diaye (debut)

Dressed in a light pink frock and standing on a dusty road in an unnamed African country, Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert), the central character in the French art-house film “White Material,” appears spellbound by the changes happening in a world she once thought of as her home.

Maria, who lives with her family on their failing coffee plantation, is Caucasian with reddish-blonde hair and blue eyes. Despite her desire to blend in with her surroundings, her presence is obvious. With rebel soldiers pitted against the government militia in a civil war, the country has become increasingly dangerous for anyone to stay. Maria’s fighting spirit, however, refuses to leave even after her entire workforce abandons the crop.

“Coffee’s coffee; not worth dying for,” her foreman says before packing up his belongings and joining the mass exodus. For Maria, it’s not that easy.

Like most of her past work, French filmmaker Claire Denis, who was actually raised in a French-colonized Africa, is minimal in her delivery and focused more on the picturesque imagery and details of the landscape than she is on the finer points of the sometimes vague narrative.

Only a hint of a secondary storyline featuring a rebel hero known as The Boxer (Isaach De Bankolé) who is hiding at Maria’s plantation is shared before it’s forgotten (a metaphor for Maria’s own ambiguous political position?). Maria’s apathetic son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), too, is briefly plucked from his comfort zone before his character is engulfed by the turmoil without much explanation.

While Denis avoids concrete answers in her allegorical work, the consistently despairing tone throughout the picture is remarkable, as is Huppert’s understated and absorbing performance as a woman lost in deep-seated denial and facing an inevitable end. The hopelessness is heavy in “White Material.” Maria’s strength is unmistakable, but it would be a tough task for anyone to carry the load alone.