Juliette Binoche on the Art of Being Directed
Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In (2017) is one of the great films about middle-aged loneliness, specifically—though not exclusively—as women feel it. It’s not a dating movie, though there’s dating in it. And it’s not a feeling-sorry-for-oneself movie, though there are moments when its heroine, a fiftyish divorced painter named Isabelle, does feel sorry for herself, and not unreasonably. But what Denis and her star, Juliette Binoche, capture here is really a texture of joyous discontent, the sense of basically being happy with yourself as you are, yet feeling that the sea, which once rushed toward your feet, is subtly and gradually retreating. You may still be beautiful, as Binoche’s Isabelle certainly is. But beauty has little to do with it. It’s as if the person inside you is no longer visible from the outside, even though you know that person better than you ever have. Why, you may be asking, doesn’t anyone get me?
Isabelle asks that question over and over in Let the Sunshine In, sometimes almost outright. She’s a woman on her own, though there’s no shortage of men cycling through her life. A self-absorbed actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) flirts with her in the most desultory way by talking in circles, not so much to her as around her. She plays along, following his conversational spirals until it makes her nuts: “We said things, then we said the opposite!” she cries out in frustration. She’s relieved when they kiss and he finally shuts up. “It feels so good to stop all that talking,” she says, almost with a sense of wonder—until the next time she sees him, when he starts right up again.
Then there’s the sweet, shy, portly gent (Philippe Katerine)—he’s probably younger than Isabelle, though in his bucket hat and jaunty ascot he seems preternaturally older—who approaches her gingerly whenever they run into each other at the local fish store. His mother has left him a house in the country; would she like to come visit? The answer is a polite, but absolute, no. The man who drives her craziest is the boorish married banker (Xavier Beauvois) who elbows into her life like an entitled bear whenever he wants sex. She craves affection from him, but his novelty is wearing off, fast. As they chat at a bar, he announces, even though she hasn’t asked, that he has no plans to leave his wife for her: “You enchant me, but my wife is extraordinary.” Her face—just a second earlier luminous and open, receptive to any reasonable possibility—becomes hard, like a lustrous, pearlescent seashell. This man has seriously undervalued her. What on earth is she doing wasting time with him?
“It’s human to crave companionship. But how many allowances are we supposed to make for the imperfections, great and small, of the people who cross our path?”
“Denis, working with her usual cinematographer, the supremely gifted Agnès Godard, lavishes love on Binoche: Her skin is like cream with drops of moonlight mixed in.”
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