Spoiler alert: for educational purposes, this annotation reveals plot lines and may interfere with some viewers' enjoyment of the film. In the opening scene, Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas), looking ashen, drawn, and nervous, sits in an airport as her much younger and radiant sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) rushes to meet her.  Léa brings an eager, if somewhat forced cheer to their halting conversations during this meeting and in their car ride to the home Léa shares with her husband, their two small adopted Vietnamese daughters, and her mute father-in-law.  From this awkward beginning, the sisters try to cross the chasm of a fifteen-year separation.  The cause and nature of the separation gradually unfold in small, slowly paced scenes of ordinary life at home, at work, in a café, during dinners with friends.  These scenes form the visible surface under which secrets and plangent, unacknowledged emotions lie, sometimes erupting into view, sometimes gently suggested.
The cause of the separation is the prison term Juliette has served in England.  We eventually learn that the sentence has to do with the death of her child, with her being a physician, with her child's suffering from cancer, and with the application of her medical knowledge to end his pain.  Following the court sentence, Juliette's parents refuse to acknowledge her, her husband divorces her, her sister buries memories of their childhood and chooses not to give birth, family and friends never visit her in prison.  We also learn that Juliette remained inexplicably silent throughout her trial.  She continues to say very little as she settles in with Lea's family and circle of friends, who are baffled by her sudden appearance in Lea's life.  But as Juliette's participation in her sister's circle increases in fitful starts, she becomes cautiously more communicative and brighter.

During a confrontation with Léa at the end of the film, Juliette reveals that, more than avoiding a shameful appraisal from others, she remains silent because there are no words to express her pain.  Being in prison made literal the isolating psychological state she inhabited.  "The worst prison is the death of one's child," she says.  "You never get out of it."  With these words, the film places the wound and the pain at the core of its main character in the inescapable vulnerability of motherhood.    



This subtly and artfully rendered character study of Juliette invites viewers to reflect on some of the most powerful and universal human experiences: loneliness, suffering, guilt, reconciliation with one's self and others.  The film plays out these experiences through Juliette's roles as physician and mother.  The conflict those roles generate when Juliette confronts her son's pain supplies bioethicists with material for case studies.  However, the film is less interested in resolving conflicts than in asking viewers to contemplate the psychic and moral life of a human being who has experienced the pain and death of the child to whom she gave birth.  The film also focuses on Juliette's attempts to rejoin the human community and on the complicated responses of those around her.     

In addition to the physical and psychic conditions and medical themes already mentioned, others appear in the lives Juliette encounters, from a dislocated shoulder to aging, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, nursing homes, depression, and suicide.  Despite such a list, "I've Loved You So Long," though somber, resists melodrama and is brightened by moments of quiet humor.  Kristin Scott Thomas's startling performance encourages the audience to face the inner and outer worlds the film represents as directly as she does.  Her performance and the film itself demand patient attention and richly reward it.      


Primary Source

Sony Picture Classics