We’re in an age of cinema where films are beginning to colour outside the lines. An age where movies are finding a new voice to lead them through the charge. What helps set the romantic world of Let the Sunshine In apart from other films in the illustrious history of French cinema is the way it embraces the world and the voice of its lead character with aplomb. From director Claire Denis, whose profile includes prolific films such Trouble Every Day and more recently High Life, Let the Sunshine In attempts to take the viewer through the life and heartache of an older woman trying to find a slice of happiness for herself.
Let the Sunshine In is something of a bold film. It takes the viewers expectation of how the life of Juliette Binoche’s Isabelle will play out but subverts them to depict a story of a woman dealing with her depression the only way she knows how. However, while the film shines in performance, there’s something of a missing link between the characters themselves and their portrayer. Isabelle is the most constant of all the characters breezing through the film. She’s wily, she’s brazen, she’s strong and she’ll hold herself up when she knows she needs to, which allows Binoche to play with her emotions and her desires in ways that can only be described as transcendent. But where does the film stand with its dizzying array of side characters?
Hard to interoperate, the film slips in its depiction of the characters that come through Isabelle’s life. Her momentary love interests slip though without much development which makes it difficult to understand why Isabelle would be drawn to them in the first place. Xavier Beauvois’ brash and offensive Vincent stands as the most consistent character outside of Isabelle. He’s an offish, disgusting man who sees Isabelle as nothing but a mistress that he’ll never fully commit to. His motivation never changes. He knows what he wants and he’ll try what he can to obtain it before Isabelle shuts him out for good. Nicolas Duvauchelle’s character, known simply as The Actor, has the second most definition out of the characters that enter her life. He’s smart, charming, and has a chemistry with Isabelle that radiates on screen.
The faults begin to highlight as the film weaves its way through the many characters that enter into Isabelle’s life at varying points. Side characters that should be there in order to serve further insight into Isabelle and her story, fall flat without any development or sense of who they are or what they want.
While it’s worth noting the intentional desire for the film to depict Isabelle’s dating life as real and raw as you’ll find in real life, the many guys who float throughout her story leave nothing to be desired.
It becomes harder and harder to invest in her repeated attempts to find someone to love since each guy she dates loses more and more development as the story moves along. Other secondary characters along the way such as Isabelle’s best friend Ariane, her new co-worker Maxime, or Gérard Depardieu’s Denis, bring even less understanding or depth which causes their scenes to feel unnecessary.
While the character development lacks in certain areas, the film’s structure and tone comes across as off-balance. However, this is clearly a stylistic decision. The film is based on Roland Barthes’ 1977 text A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, which utilises fragmented stories in order to tell a lover’s point-of-view. The film uses this structure in order to tell Isabelle’s story, although, the translation seems lost on film. In keeping with the book’s structure, the film takes more of a jumbled approach which makes it difficult to fully invest in the story and this serves as a detriment to the characters. The jumping across significant points in Isabelle’s search for love eliminates the build-up to get to each point, which, while eliminating unnecessary exposition, takes away from any sort of understanding or believability you find in the male suitors in her life.
This isn’t to say the film should be completely written off. The look and feel of each scene is something of a triumph. The world feels well-lived in, allowing the audience to better understand Isabelle and her mind-set. The depiction of her struggles with depression and how she handles her life at this point comes across beautifully. There’s a connection built between the audience and Isabelle that’ll make you understand the exact headspace she’s living in and why she’s feeling the way she does.
While many films lack in their differing depictions of mental illness, Let the Sunshine In never shies away from how Isabelle is struggling.
It follows how her mental illness influences her decisions and her life as a whole, even against her better judgement, because in the end, she just wants to feel loved.
Although billed as a comedy, Let the Sunshine In feels better integrated into the romantic drama category. The film never fully realises the comedic moments necessary in order to depict the message it’s trying to tell. There’s a lack of truly embracing the inherent comedic undertones that could flourish in a piece such as this, although, in the end the dramatic turn does work in the film’s favour. It wants to illuminate the world unto the inner thoughts and feelings of a woman in her 50’s as she deals with depression and dating culture while never shying away from the difficulty and dreariness that comes alongside her worldview. It takes a very French-esque film approach to illustrating depression and loneliness, and in doing so highlights a very different side to mental illness. Something many people will be able to relate to.
Let the Sunshine In isn’t a film many people would be able to derive mindless enjoyment from. Far from popcorn cinema, the film is more interested in creating a feeling within the viewers over senseless entertainment.
While there’s much more to be desired in the story, and often times the film seems cluttered with scenes that are quite unnecessary, there’s bones to the story that, after some more fine tuning, could’ve stood as a monument in experimental cinema to inspire many romantic films coming in the future. There’s something to be said for the casual nature in which Let the Sunshine In flows through the performances and its seamless directing style. However, for people who aren’t quite invested in, or have a sincere knowledge of the impeccable style of French cinema, the disconnect will be hard to ignore.
Let the Sunshine In will be screening at ACMI from January 24 through to February 12, 2019. For more information and tickets, click here.