Claire Denis is one of contemporary French cinema’s most audacious and versatile voices, justly revered for her deft explorations of the complexities of relationships and the layered facets of female desire. Her erotic horror gem Trouble Every Day and the near dialogue-free Friday Night stand out as polar opposite but equally enticing expressions of the conflicting emotions inherent to companionship. What a genuine shame it is then to report that her latest offering is an exhausting misfire.
Loosely based on A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes, this structurally fragmented tale sees a recently divorced painter, Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), explore her newly-found singlehood with a string of romantic conquests. There’s the colleague (Bruno Podalydès), the banker (Xavier Beauvois), the actor (Nicholas Duvauchelle), the random stranger (Paul Blain) with whom she dances to the sounds of Etta James’ “At Last”. Her dalliances lead to pompous pontifications which frequently border on intellectual masturbation, replete with lunatic flip-flopping that sees characters profess love one minute and walk away in a huff the next. It all amounts to a perpetually unhappy protagonist seeking out a fortune teller (Gérard Depardieu, whose presence is comically jarring) to make sense of her romantic future.
Many will see sophistication in this pseudo-feminist tale – indeed, critical consensus suggests that this reviewer may be in the minority. But little in Denis and co-screenwriter Christine Angot’s overwrought script is particularly insightful, and the film plays out like a parody of what many deride as quintessentially French cinema, with most of its characters little more than self-involved, one- dimensional archetypes.
Credit where credit’s due: Binoche is excellent as the hot-blooded, constantly unsatisfied divorcée searching for love. The rest will only make you yearn for Denis’ less wordy efforts. Here’s hoping that her first English-language production, High Life, released next year, makes up for this nosedive in quality.
Let the Sunshine In | Directed by Claire Denis (France, 2017) with Juliette Binoche, Bruno Podalydès, Xavier Beavois, Philippe Katerine. Starts December 14.
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