Director: Claire Denis
Writers: Christine Angot, Claire Denis
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Philippe Katerine
Genre: Drama / World Cinema
Divorced Parisian painter Isabelle (Binoche) searches for another shot at love, but every time she finds a man that she seems to have an initial connection with or attraction to, they have their own individual issues which get very much in the way.
Though that may me seem like a hideously cliched plot of a middle of the road romantic comedy about a bourgeois character that no one can relate to, thankfully in hands of the very experienced and superbly talented filmmaker Claire Denis Let the Sunshine In has far more to offer. Inspired by Roland Barthes’ 1977 A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, Let the Sunshine In is a brutally honest exploration of the human condition and our struggles to find emotional connection in the 21st century that is at times raw, sensual, brutally honest and farcically comical.
Admittedly the narrative structure is a little episodic as Isabelle shares romantic encounters with various men as she feels the need to share her life with someone and find that connection with someone special, but it is a film written with more than enough observational intelligence to make this forgivable. This is especially the case as though the main focus of the overall narrative is the protagonist of Isabelle, each character gets enough of their own dialogue and narrative focus to be memorable in their own unique ways. Each of the male character is also flawed in their own inimitable way, and though inevitably (and intentionally) some are more likeable than others, the fleeting relationships they develop with Isabelle are never anything less than compelling.
The films style also enhances our engagement with the characters, as Denis often opts for extreme close ups on the characters faces as they have conversations of raw, naturalistic dialogue with Isabelle. The camerawork and dialogue add to the various feelings of discomfort, intimacy and at times suffocation that the characters experience, and enhance our emotional involvement as we too share these feelings with the characters. Sometimes the most basic of human emotions are turned into an intellectual debate by the two characters as Isabelle is a character that seems to very much over analyse everything that happens in her life and is said to her. Though this may sound alienating to watch, it actually fits in well with the overall themes of the film and why the characters then struggle to ultimately find that connection they long for.
Isabelle also demonstrates as many flaws and imperfections in the men in her life and is at times a frustrating and unlikeable character. Many films of this kind do tread a fine line and risk completely alienating the audience, especially as these characters tend to be financially comfortable characters with large flats (for example, Terence Malick’s Knight of Cups has been referred to as ‘First World Problems: The Movie’). Let the Sunshine In often flirts with being a little too self-indulgent, but Denis is an assured filmmaker and makes sure that Isabelle has enough relatable characteristics for us to care about her and want her to find the emotional connection that she so dearly longs for.
Many of us may not be successful Parisian artists, but still share the same basic needs and desires as our protagonist, and so can relate to her. In the case of Let the Sunshine In, having a protagonist from this social class actually allows the narrative to focus on her emotional and sexual needs, and not the financial, so allowing the film to focus on its core themes. This also does allow the film at times take a satirical swipe at the attitude of those in art circles, and there is some biting satirical humour at play in the scenes that Isabelle shares with fellow artists and creative types. At one point one of Isabelle’s fellow ‘arty’ friends (who too admits to being lonely and therefore undoubtedly demonstrates an element of jealously) tells her that she should only have relationships with fellow artistic types, and this then has a negative effect on that relationship.
As Isabelle, Juliette Binoche delivers a stunning performance that adds to our genuine engagement with her character. Some scenes are just simple conversations her character has with friends or even strangers such as taxi drivers, but Isabelle is so desperate to find connection that she immediately starts to pour her heart out to everyone that she engages in a conversation with whether they want her to or not. Isabelle may be as flawed as all human beings, but her actions are always motivated by the most genuine of intentions and Binoche’s dialogue delivery and facial expressions effortlessly emphasise the characters sincerity. Let the Sunshine In is a far more honest portrayal of love than will be found in most mainstream films, it asks brutally honest questions that we can apply to own lives, and that is one of the reasons as to why it is far more engaging and emotionally rewarding than films from the mainstream. As the film reaches its conclusion it may not necessarily provide all the answers, but the pertinent questions will stay with the audience. The film’s closing sequence is certainly unusual and may well frustrate some, but some questions do not have simple answers.
A deeply engaging examination of human connection in the 21st Century; Let the Sunshine In is not frightened to ask some awkward questions and be brutally honest in its observations, and for that reason is a very emotionally rewarding film.