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.

Of Gods and Men

April 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin
Directed by: Xavier Beauvois (“Le petit lieutenant”)
Written by: Xavier Beauvois (“Le petit lieutenant”)

Man’s faith is tested in the most deeply moving and fascinating ways in the French docudrama “Of God’s and Men” (“Des homes et des dieux”), last year’s Grand Prize winner at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. While the poignant themes are not uncommon, filmmaker Xavier Beauvois’ tactful handling of the emotional intensity – and material that would topple most directors – is pure poetry.

Based on the true 1996 incident where a group of Trappist monks (part of the Roman Catholic order) living in Algeria must decide whether or not to stay in their monastary when an extremist Islamic terrorists threaten their safety, “Of God’s and Men” takes this understated narrative and creates a haunting story of remarkable inspiration that never allows its core spirituality to overshadow the more universal message about the human spirit.

That’s not to say the men at the center of “Of God’s and Men” are not torn between their physical and religious lives. As we spend time with these seven God-fearing men inside the walls of the quiet monetary, we agonize alongside them as the weighty decision presses down on their minds. Some think abandoning their home is like a renouncement of their faith. Some believe staying in the hostile country during a civil war would ultimately lead to their deaths. None are certain what the right answer is. It’s powerful to witness them come to terms with what they decide.

Reminiscent of the late Sidney Lumet’s 1957 drama “12 Angry Men,” in which a split jury must decide the fate of a young man accused of murder, “Of God’s and Men” allows us to take refuge with each of these monks and appreciate the philosophical viewpoint behind their choices. It’s a story of survival confronted at the root of their conviction.

While the lack of dialogue, somber environment and routine, and glacial pacing may be tedious for some (chanting monks don’t have to be boring if you actually see the beauty in the scenes), moviegoers who are looking for genuinely affecting foreign language cinema will not be disappointed in the least. As the world of these sympathetic characters crumbles around them (details Beauvois elects to keep thes scope small, which is a bold move), “Of God’s and Men” focuses on something more than historical context. It actually hits a nerve.