“Is this my life? I want to find love.” So laments Juliette Binoche as Isabelle, a 50something artist in Paris, echoing many a woman of every age. Which is in fact something of a comfort: if a woman of such luminousness, grace, and intelligence can’t find a man, then maybe it’s not us, but them. (Just kidding: We all already know it’s them.) And truly, all the men in her life are awful in mundane, conventional ways that are very recognizable: they’re self-centered, unfaithful, crude, wishy-washy, posturing, demanding, casually insulting when they think they’re being flattering. One man tells her, “I like your synthetic mind,” which is simply a terrible thing to say to anyone... though she doesn’t seem to notice. So there’s that, too: Isabelle is so lonely and so desperate for male company that she seems to have no taste at all in men. (So, guys, don’t write in to #NotAllMen me. This movie isn’t meant to condemn all men. Just the ones who warrant it.)
Let the Sunshine In is very French: drenched in ennui and punctuated by weary philosophizing as Isabelle wanders in and out of encounters with such masculine horrors as an actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who sighs over his own inability to make a decision about anything, and a banker (Xavier Beauvois) who compares her unfavorably to his wife, by way of explaining why he’d never leave his wife even though he’s been fucking Isabelle. Sometimes, in her disconsolate mopiness, she is very unfair to other men who don’t deserve it, at least at that moment, such as her ex (Laurent Grévill) and the random guy (Paul Blain) she picked up at a nightclub and then lashes out at when a friend suggests that he’s all wrong for her. (This is probably true, but still.)
It’s all based on Roland Barthes’s book A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, but director — and screenwriter, with Christine Angot — Claire Denis renders Isabelle’s anti-adventures loosely, with almost an improvised feel. There’s not a lot of satisfaction in any of it, nor much by way of resolution. At one point, after another inadequate date, Isabella asks the taxi driver on her ride home, “Are you happy?” He doesn’t really answer. Because who is? Basically the movie in a nutshell.
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