Philippe Claudel’s il Y A Longtemps Que Je T’aime

Directed by Philippe Claudel, the 2008 drama Il y a longtemps que je t’aime (I’ve loved you so long in English), is a poignant and thought provoking story which examines the power of love, between parents and children, between sisters and between friends.

The story begins with the release of the protagonist, Juliette (interpreted with great empathy and grace by Kristin Scott Thomas), from prison. She is met by her younger sister, Léa (Elsa Zylberstein), who takes her to her family home, where Juliette will be staying. There she meets Léa’s husband, his mute father, and their little adopted daughters. Although she has been reunited with her sister after fifteen years in prison, Juliette is distant and cold; she appears to be unable to return to the life she left behind so long ago. However, although the ghost of her crime prevents her from resuming normal relationships with her loved ones, its nature remains a mystery, not only to the audience, but to Léa as well. It is only as she begins to relax into the warmth and gentleness of her sister’s family that the true gravity of what she has done is gradually revealed. By the end, the viewer is left questioning how a woman, who, over the film’s trajectory, has shown herself to be gentle and loving, could do such an awful thing.

Despite the darkness of the subject matter of Il y a longtemps que je t’aime, this film leaves one feeling uplifted, as it ultimately reaffirms our belief in the constancy of the love and support that ties families together. The sensitive and considered way in which these themes are addressed earned the film two César awards, and the 2008 BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English Language.

a still of Juliette