After seeing this film in the fall of 2008 I knew that I had just been witness to an amazing film. I have always been a huge fan of foreign movies (Run Lola Run, Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colours trilogy, Volver), but Il y a longtemps que je t'aime hit me smack in the face. I had always respected Kristin Scott Thomas as an actress but, honestly, my knowledge of her career achievement ranged from the epic and somewhat unwatchable The English Patient to the cheesy Mission: Impossible. The only movies of hers I can claim to have seen are Gosford Park (a brilliantly interwoven film by Robert Altman) and Life as a House. Unfortunately, I do not actually remember her being in either of these movies. It was not until I saw Ne le dis à personne that things changed. Playing a small part in the film, Kristin Scott Thomas captivated me. I realized that we shared something in common: two Anglophones trying to make a living speaking French. It was marvelous, and I wholeheartedly recommend this film to everyone (it was so very close to eclipsing this film as number ten on my list).
Kristin Scott Thomas plays Juliette, a woman released into the world after spending fifteen years in prison. For most of the film, we, as viewers, are left in the dark as to the reason for her stay in prison. Slowly, more is revealed about Juliette's past, through her attempt to reestablish a relationship with her sister Léa, who has graciously invited Juliette to stay with her family, much to her husband's discomfort. The film is beautiful to watch and often uncomfortable to witness. Juliette's new relationship with those around her are built on such fragile ground that we sit and watch with such anticipation and trepidation. Kristin Scott Thomas has created a character so emotionally damaged that one cannot help but empathize with her.
This film is a beautiful and provoking example of a film that unravels before you and leaves you breathless. From the beginning of the film until the emotional climax, we watch and grow with Juliette and pray for her redemption. After all, it is you, the viewer, who must decide whether or not Juliette deserves this redemption. The direction of Philippe Claudel is so quiet (and disquieting) and understated that the talents of his actors bring to life the emotional core of this film. The film unravels its secrets slowly and deliberately that when the final credits ended I felt that I had been unraveled. In the year that has passed since viewing this film for the first time, I still feel on the brink of tears when I think of Kristin Scott Thomas' complex and skillfully nuanced performance.