Posted by: jkirkby8712 | January 10, 2012

Sunday, 8th January 2012 – about a French movie I enjoyed!!

This morning’s radio show just didn’t feel right, it wasn’t one of my best, although hopefully, I was the only one who noticed, or felt that way. It wasn’t helped by another restless night, with short sleep patterns, due to a general feeling on not feeling well, a sensation which tended to stay with me this morning. Usually, by the time I get on air, any tiredness or other concerns wash away with the pleasure of the music I’m playing, or whatever, but today, I’m not sure that was the case. I mentioned to Jack, who followed me this morning, that I felt an obligation to go to the station’s fund raising sausage sizzle this morning, though I really didn’t have the energy to be bothered.  As it turned out, I went back home for a brief while, doing a little shopping along the way, and then decided to stay there!! Tried to convince my conscience that I had done plenty for the radio station since Christmas – they could manage without my services on this occasion.

So there you go, after an early morning start, I returned home where I stayed – probably should rested more than I did – housework, reading, writing, typing, etc –  but really, those things were more restful than standing around in the warm sun beside a gas barbeque, trying to feel better than I really felt!  Anyway, enough of that!  The day passed by peacefully enough, and by Sunday night, I had decided to watch a bit of TV. That included and interesting documentary on SBS – the first of a three part program called ‘Once upon a Time in Cabramatta’.   As a reviewer, Doug Anderson wrote   “Malcolm Fraser says yes, and thousands of Vietnamese refugees start entering Australia. Pauline Hanson begins ranting doom and the Armageddon shock-jock choir cranks up ”We’ll all be rooned!”  But what of the refugees and their aspirations for a decent life? As we know, most have worked hard, integrated as much as is necessary and made amazing contributions to our social fabric. Anh Do’s story The Happiest Refugee is regarded as a bellwether of countless experiences but it was not smooth sailing to get here and the multilayered transitions required to build a new destiny came at a cost.  This series details some of the downside – the vagaries that confronted the children of those poor, tired, hungry huddled masses upon arrival. Stories of alienation, racism, lack of love and inadequate social back-up constitute a casebook study of what not to do for new arrivals.  Not all Vietnamese refugees have happy-ever-after stories. Not all Anglo-Aussies have abandoned their prejudices, either. The past hasn’t entirely passed – especially in Cabramatta, as this three-part doco makes clear”.  I must admit this was all happening in the years that I was not taking as much notice of such events, and I’d certainly not realised the extent of difficulties that many of these Vietnamese refugees faced, and created for those already  in the country when they came here in the 1970s.  My main contact was with a group of 2 or 3 Vietnamese brothers who joined our Wesley Badminton Club in the late 1970s, although from memory, they each seemed to be fairly well off –  educated, good jobs, and [I’m assuming] financially secure. I never asked at the time, but they probably didn’t come here by boat!  Family name was Lam or Pham, can’t recall which way it went – Shirley might remember, she was a better badminton player than I ever was, and as those lads were good players, she got to play as partners with them, more than I ever did.  Anyway, a program worth having a look at the next two parts of!

On the same channel [SBS], there followed a French movie – not sure why I started to watch it, obviously the brief descriptive subject matter drew my attention – story of an older sister, who comes out of jail, where she has spent 15 years for murdering her son – comes to stay initially with her younger sister ,her husband and two little adopted Vietnamese girls. For all intents and purposes, the younger girl had been forbidden by her parents to ever acknowledge the older sibling for what she had done, so the initial meeting and arrival in the family home is greeted with some tension, though not by the too delightful little girls who are very excited to meet their ‘mysterious’ Auntie!!  I really ‘enjoyed’ this film, if that’s the right word to describe a movie that in the main, is not a very happy storyline – filmed in French of course with English subtitles, which to my mind barely affected the viewing of the film.  I actually found a Wikipedia summary of the movie, which I thought did it great justice, and provides as good a synopsis as any other.  Incidentally, the name of the movie was “I’ve Loved You So Long”, made in 2008 I think.

From Wikipedia:  “When Juliette Fontaine is released from prison after serving a fifteen-year sentence, her younger sister Léa invites her to stay with her family – including her husband Luc, his mute father Papy Paul, and their two adopted Vietnamese daughters, P’tit Lys and Emelia – in their home in the university town of Nancy in Lorraine. Léa, a college professor of literature, is considerably younger than Juliette. The younger woman recalls little about her childhood. Because of the nature of Juliette’s crime (a secret which is revealed at the end of the film), their parents denied Juliette’s existence and refused to allow Léa to visit her. In addition, Juliette had refused to speak throughout her trial. As a result, Léa knows nothing about the circumstances surrounding the crime and, when pressed for details, Juliette refuses to discuss what happened.

While struggling to find employment, Juliette enjoys platonic companionship with two men, probation officer Capt. Fauré, who understands how prison can damage the human spirit and shares with her his dream of seeing the Orinoco River, and Michel, one of her sister’s colleagues. She also develops a close relationship with her young nieces, much to the distress of their father, who is concerned about their safety while in their aunt’s presence.

Juliette finds work transcribing medical records for a hospital, where her supervisor encourages her to be more friendly with her co-workers when they complain about her being cold and distant. But Juliette has been confined for so long she feels dehumanized and finds it difficult to relate to others. She agrees to accompany Léa when she visits their mother, who is confined to a nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease. For a brief moment the woman recognizes and embraces her, remembering her as a little girl rather than the estranged daughter who murdered her grandson.

Gradually, Juliette begins to fit in with her family, makes friends and is given a permanent job. Léa then accidentally discovers a clue to Juliette’s secret, leading to the film’s final revelations: Juliette was a well respected doctor; her young son had been diagnosed with a fatal and painful disease. When the disease progressed, Juliette had euthanized him so he wouldn’t suffer. During her trial, she had felt so guilty for what she had done, she hadn’t defended herself. Lea confronts Juliette with what she has learned and asks why she had never explained or asked for help leading to an emotional breakdown between the sisters. Juliette, finally able to express her feelings and describe in detail what she did and why, is able to come to terms with the past and move on”.

Peter Bradshaw of ‘The Guardian’ went a little further, in his review back in 2008, and I want to use this as a further illustration of the film.

“The presence of Kristin Scott Thomas in this literate French movie by Philippe Claudel is so powerfully distinctive that it’s as if Claudel has not merely written the lead role for her, but extrapolated his film’s entire narrative structure from Scott Thomas’s personality. Her formidable bilingual presence, her beauty – elegant and drawn in early middle age – her air of hypersensitive awareness of all the tiny absurdities and indignities with which she is surrounded, coupled with a drolly lenient reticence: it all creates an intelligent, observant drama about dislocation, fragility and the inner pain of unshakeable memories. Scott Thomas is on screen for almost every minute of the film, often in close-up and her face is at once eloquent and deeply withdrawn.    She plays Juliette, a forty-something woman who after a long and painful separation has been taken in by her younger sister Léa, played by Elsa Zylberstein. When we first see Juliette, being picked up at the airport, she wears no makeup and smokes perpetually; she has a dowdy grey cardigan of the sort worn in girls’ boarding schools, and has clearly been institutionalised in some awful way.  Juliette and Léa’s childhood home was near Rouen, but Léa has now moved with her husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) and two young children to Nancy, in eastern France. The film’s regional identity is cleverly underlined with material about intense football rivalries, and soccer-mad Luc’s resentment of biased sports coverage in the Parisian papers.

Juliette’s English-accented French is explained by the fact that she spent some time in England and that the women’s mother (played by Claire Johnston) is English, a patient with dementia in an old people’s home. Juliette’s sole meeting with the old woman is a brashly tremendous coup de cinéma, which Claudel saves up for the very end: a dramatic flourish like something from Tennessee Williams.

The reason for Juliette’s absence is a grim, unnameable secret. It is the elephant in the living room whose shadow has fallen over all their lives, and it is only when Juliette goes for job interviews, or for mandatory meetings with her welfare case-worker, or the local police officer with whom she must sign in once a week, that she can speak the truth aloud. This Juliette does with a crisp, proud defiance, and a perverse pleasure in shocking and upsetting people, to pre-empt their judgment and their scorn.  In a series of cleverly constructed, indirect dialogue scenes, Claudel shows how Juliette’s 15-year-old secret has sent her entire family into shock and a collective dysfunction. Ironically, it is Juliette who has been able to look the facts squarely in the face and, having had a decade and a half to come to terms with it, is relatively well adjusted. But Léa, carrying the twin burdens of her own family respectability and the need to appease her parents’ angry demands for silence on the matter, has had to spend her adult life in denial. To her astonishment, Juliette realises that her secret has induced in Léa a kind of learned amnesia about their shared youth, and she is enraged that Léa has made life choices that look like an agonised repudiation of Juliette’s past. Yet all this makes Léa’s passionate need to reach out to her damaged sister all the more moving.

Scott Thomas and Zylberstein make good sisters. It is not simply that they look plausibly similar, but not too similar, it is that they act out sibling tension so well: the tricky magnetic field made up of shared memories, rivalries, intimacies. (I couldn’t help wondering what a film about sisters starring Kristin Scott Thomas and her own sister Serena would look like.) For a novelist, Philippe Claudel shows remarkable skill with his first feature film: in fact, his script is almost a screenplay masterclass, absorbing a lot of facts and story into a small space, but without any uncomfortable cramming, and he adroitly suggests the slow process by which Juliette is gradually accepted into the family and the community. With miraculous efficiency, he creates for Juliette a flirtation with a melancholy cop, a sexual encounter with a bumptious guy in a bar, and a growing, tender intimacy with Léa’s colleague and fellow lecturer Michel (Laurent Grevill). Enough material for a whole soap opera season is miraculously reduced to feature length

My only quarrel with this drama is that the final revelation, when it comes, is a little strained. It turns on the discovery of a photo and certain details on the back of a handwritten poem, but these details, as well as not being spelled out, do not appear to offer us much more knowledge than we, by this stage, have already gleaned. Scott Thomas’s performance, easily the best of her career, countermands any such qualms: the centre of a deeply involving, beautifully acted and expertly constructed human drama by and for grown-up”.

On that last point of Bradshaw, I had to agree, as it was difficult to follow what was actually supposed to have been on that piece of paper – left up to our imaginations I guess, I wondered for a moment whether I’d simply missed the point through the use of English sub-titles, etc, as I was waiting for a more definite explanation of what was happening. Nevertheless, the subsequent acting performance gave us all the answers eventually in some superb character acting.

I’ve Loved You So Long

Secrets and lies … Kristin Scott Thomas in I’ve Loved You So Long

I was also quite taken with the acting of the ‘supposed’ 6 year old Vietnamese girl  – a beautiful little performance for someone so young, and even if she were in reality, a couple of years older,  I was rather impressed


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