“Oh, will wonders ever cease? Blessed be the mystery of love.”
An adaptation of Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, Let the Sunshine In is indeed messy in parts and structurally flawed. But a few key factors hold it together: the gorgeously authentic lead performance from Juliette Binoche, the fascinating opinions each character has on love and how the main character tries to force romantic connections that are not destined to ever fully form.
Binoche plays Isabelle, a divorced mother who has had a number of lovers in her life, although none of them have provided her with the love and care she desperately needs. The film opens with Isabelle having a sexual encounter with Vincent (Xavier Beauvois), a smug, pretentious banker who likes to believe that he has the upper hand. He is unlikeable pretty much from the start; we also discover that he is married and, while he thinks Isabelle is an incredible woman, he claims that his wife is “extraordinary”. A difficult claim to believe when he is sleeping with another woman.
Isabelle seems to find Vincent quite amusing, although it is clear that he also gets under her skin and, deep down, she knows that he is not right for her. She soon removes him from her life and has an epiphany: that love may not just be this, well, loveless. Despite her pessimism about certain things, Isabelle believes deeply in romance, probably too much for her own good. What this creates is a fascinating character study about a woman who searches for love in all of the wrong places, trying to force romantic relationships instead of letting the process happen naturally.
Other short instances with men occur for Isabelle, including sleeping with a handsome actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and becoming briefly involved with an uneducated man (Paul Blain). But, once again, Isabelle isn’t feeling what she wants to feel with these men. The physical aspects of relationships are easy for Isabelle to grasp and deal with, but the strong emotional connection always seems to be non-existent. Isabelle seems to want a fairytale romance but, with this being real life, she probably has her expectations way too high.
Claire Denis directs the film with intimacy and delicacy; a lot of scenes involve simple conversations between Isabelle and one of the men, and Denis ensures that the camera is close by to create this feeling that we are in on the conversation, even if we don’t necessarily wish to be. Isabelle realises quickly that these men aren’t right for her and their relationship could be nothing more than physical, yet she constantly keeps making the same mistakes and continues to force love when it isn’t really there. This can often make her character frustrating, but it is intriguing to witness how eager she is to search for her true love.
There have been better character studies about romance, but it is refreshing to see films that go against almost all of the Hollywood clichés. Let the Sunshine In is about learning to love yourself and bringing warmth into your own life before you allow anyone to share your life with you.
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