Claire Denis, 2016
I doubt if any film polarised people more this year than LET THE SUNSHINE IN, the new film by French master, Claire Denis. Nearly everyone I spoke to had issues with it ... some actually hated it!
Some conceded that it’s beautifully made, others that it’s intermittently amusing, and all were impressed by the remarkable career-defining performance of Juliette Binoche as Isabelle. Few saw it as an allegory for bourgeois indifference, in which Isabelle’s compulsive habit of deferring to controlling bastards is equated with a decades-long global habit of deferring to neoliberalism. I have no idea if Denis intended such a reading, but it gives the film additional heft that such parallels can be drawn. And in any event, as Andrei Tarkovsky taught us decades ago, cinema is a mirror with which to reflect on the world, an opportunity to make one's own connections, find one's own meanings, and perhaps learn something about who we are.
One person I spoke to couldn’t understand why Denis (a filmmaker they admire) chose an impossibly beautiful woman to deliver such a “cold revelation on such a lukewarm plate”, but as I see it, Juliette Binoche’s middle-aged beauty is central to Denis’s depiction of a woman who has long-been a focus for male sexual attention, but who is now struggling to find authentic connection in a self-obsessed world. The film also has much to say about Western societal values – the curse of beauty, the curse of having it all but having nothing, the curse of privilege, and the desperation at the heart of ‘want’.
For me, the film is about delusion and deception, self-imposed as well as external. The themes are handled with a wonderfully light touch and delicious perception, evident in the writing first and foremost, the performances (across the board), and the subtlety (near-invisibility) of the filmmaking. The only time Denis draws attention to herself is where she elects (somewhat audaciously, but also in an inexplicably exhilarating way) to run the end credits across the final minutes of the last scene, which features a perfectly cast and brilliantly effortless Gerard Depardieu. The impression this creates is equivalent to the director shaking her head in exasperation and leaving Isabelle to her fate.