Let the Sunshine In
French star Juliette Binoche and acclaimed director Claire Denis combine for a sophisticated and soulful look at romance.
January 24, 2019
A film so light on its feet, yet so insightful in every frame, Let the Sunshine In could only be the work of one filmmaker. Never one to avoid trying new things, the great French writer-director Claire Denis makes her first romantic-comedy, but it's also an anti-romantic comedy of sorts. Love may be the movie's subject, and a long line of lusty encounters might await its lonely protagonist, however Denis understands one thing that upbeat on-screen amorous affairs tend to ignore. While connecting intimately with someone can feel like the most fulfilling thing in the world (even when it only lasts mere moments), everything involved with chasing that sensation — and it's always a constant chase — rarely inspires the same emotions.
Giving a straightforward story more heft and depth than most labyrinthine plots, Denis' sophisticated and soulful take on love follows the romantic escapades of Parisian artist Isabelle (Juliette Binoche). In her 50s and freshly divorced, she has no shortage of suitors — from the banker (Xavier Beauvois) she's in bed with when the film starts, to an actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who crosses her path, to the ex (Laurent Grévill) that she's not quite done with. The list goes on, with Isabelle's affairs of the heart sharing much in common with the movie's sex scenes, and with sex in general. Limbs tangle and so do lives, as each of her rendezvous veers back and forth between the messy and the sublime.
Conversation helps fill in the gaps, in a film overflowing with honest and authentic dialogue. In fact, candour proves Let the Sunshine In's driving force as it dissects the ups and downs of dating and desire. Co-writing the screenplay with novelist Christine Angot, and loosely taking inspiration from Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, Denis lets her movie move with the moment. It glows with the story's disarming delights in one scene, then fades with Isabelle's devastating lows in the next. But this isn't a portrait of yearning. It's not about searching for 'the one', or only feeling complete in someone else's arms. It's a frank account of a mature woman trying to find someone she's truly happy to share her time, heart, body and mind with, and working out what she really wants out of life in the process.
Both defiant and vulnerable, there's no one better to play Isabelle than Binoche. The acclaimed actor is as vivid, magnetic and complex as she's ever been on screen, willingly embracing the many conflicts and contradictions evident in a character who always feels like flesh and blood. Astonishingly, Let the Sunshine In marks Binoche's first collaboration with Denis. It went so well that they quickly paired up again for a film that's just as stellar yet couldn't be more different: the soon-to-be-released dystopian sci-fi picture High Life. Binoche's performance in the latter movie is something else entirely, but there's a potency and freedom to her work with Denis in general, as if they're opening the floodgates to a world of women at once.
Perhaps surprisingly for a romantically inclined film, though not for Denis' oeuvre, Let the Sunshine In is also visually striking. Always one for showing as much as telling — even in a movie with plenty of chatter — the director ensures her frames are as multifaceted as the protagonist within them. Indeed, it's possible to sense Isabelle's internal state just by soaking in the distinctive auteur's stylistic choices, as lensed with intimacy and empathy by her regular cinematographer Agnès Godard. Across a filmography that includes military exploits in Beau Travail, erotic horror with Trouble Every Day and immigration drama courtesy of 35 Shots of Rum, Denis has seared many an image onto the retinas of her viewers. The rich and resonant Let the Sunshine In is no different.