' ' Cinema Romantico: Let the Sunshine In

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Let the Sunshine In

“Let the Sunshine In” opens with Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) and Vincent (Xavier Beauvois) in bed. He expresses his desire to pleasure her; she says she has already been pleasured enough. Binoche’s line reading suggests she might not be telling the whole truth and Vincent’s line makes clear he is not listening anyway, a communication breakdown if there ever was one. Later, Isabelle, who is divorced and spends the whole movie on a search, or thereabouts, for love, or something like it, is out with a moody actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who spends the entire evening blathering about his insecurities and then tells her she should not have been forced to hear anything he had to say. “Finally,” she says just before they fall into bed. “No talk.” If, say, “Before Sunrise” was chock full of words searching for romantic meaning, so is “Let the Sunshine In”, though the latter sees its endless torrent of conversations as ultimately meaningless, dancing about architecture and all that. It is not words that drive Isabelle so much as urges.

The narrative follows those urges too, forgoing any kind of narrative structure, which, even if Isabelle often comes across trapped within the neurosis of her own mind, makes the film itself feel free. That freedom is furthered in director director Claire Denis’s elliptical structure, not just from scene to scene but within the whole movie itself, so that whenever you think you have a handle on where you are in the space time continuum, the whole thing flips. deliberately making a gorgeous mess of the notion of so many romantic comedies, which “Let the Sunshine In” is at its core, that neat and ordered storylines progress to true love. Indeed, Denis’s camera work furthers this notion, often jarring us by cutting to close-ups of Binoche mid-conversation, eliciting the sense that whatever’s being said to her is something she is struggling to square.

Yet even in those close-ups Binoche remains markedly distant, frequently looking away, never quite letting us all the way in. That might seem odd given how we spend the entire movie in her presence. But then, how do you get to know someone still in the process of figuring herself out, a remarkable assertion for a middle-aged character, allowing Isabelle the freedom to fuck up as much as any rom com twenty-something. This riddle is what prevents the movie from simply being a series of episodes in which a woman keeps placing herself in situations with terrible men. She shares blame too.

While Denis might not have traditional interest in the old proverb of the Meet Cute, she presents one anyway, on a dance floor where mysterious suitor suddenly appears to the strains of Etta James’s “At Last” as they just sort of fall into an elegantly primal dance. Denis allows the moment to last the entire song, a lyrical evocation of instant sexual attraction, and the joy with which Binoche allows Isabella to luxuriate in that desire is palpable. You almost wish it would end there as one song of bliss. It can’t, of course, so they see each other and when a friend, possible partner, questions this new suitor’s compatibility, it goads Isabelle into doing the same, a heartbreaking scene where Binoche manages to convey regret in the midst of the breakup itself, as if her character is willing herself to do something she does not necessarily believe in, still trying to make up her mind even after she ostensibly already has.

That air of synchronous confusion permeates “Let the Sunshine In”, right down to its conclusion, involving a Gérard Depardieu cameo, shot mostly in close-up, first in shadow and then gradually illuminated, underscoring how the scene gradually unwinds its truth, incredibly managing to live out its title even as it skewers that title too. I will not spoil it precisely, but suffice to say that it reorders things, a marvelous bit of subterfuge, existing as both a beginning and an end, or maybe an end and a beginning, depending on your half full/half empty mindset. And Binoche, bless her, splits the difference with a smile that summarizes the whole damn movie. Both things, as the political pundits are always advising these days, can be true.

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