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.