1 Hr., 36 Mins.
Let the Sunshine In / Love After Love
1 Hr., 31 Mins.
January 8, 2019
is chiefly concerned with how grief has fractured the relationships between a clan who had issues from the outset. Rarely is it interested in the thrills that might come during an especially heated, mid-movie exchange.
The actors feigning suffering in Love After Love are Andie MacDowell, who plays matriarch Suzanne, and Chris O’Dowd and James Adomian as her sons, Nick and Chris. The movie traverses their points of view, specifically probing how their convictions have changed after the sudden death. Suzanne begins acting hostiley toward her colleagues, though begins healing when she starts dating again.Nick, already a weasel, tries to womanize his sorrow away, though we suppose he exhibited this sort of behavior anterior to his father’s demise. Chris, a local comedian, dangerously boozes.
The screenplay prods at their misery with Bergman-like canniness; the performances, especially the one given by MacDowell, who has never been better, scream, with jarring fortissimo, in their hurt. These familial dynamics are so convincing that we can almost immediately sense how the main trio had operated before. It's so difficult to wash off that we become certain, by the movie's end, that Harbaugh is only getting started.
Let the Sunshine In: B+
Love After Love: A-
earching, too, are the characters in the family drama Love After Love, the feature-length debut from Russell Harbaugh. Its plot is worn and wonted: the patriarch of a tight-knit family dies, which leaves his wife and adult children reeling. But the movie, which was written by Harbaugh and Eric Mendelsohn, feels atypical. Like Robert Redford’s Ordinary People (1980), which remains a high point for the painful genealogical melodrama, it
else that she’d rather not see at all.
Tortured as James’ heroines were, it seems likely that Isabelle would prefer passionate, ultimately unrequited love to a relationship that was disappointing to begin with. The latter kind, after all, is mostly what the divorced and middle-aged Isabelle has to work with these days. Although she is at the height of her professional success — she is a revered visual artist — her post-divorce dating life has been unrewarding to the point of encouraging madness. Every man she courts is a varying combination of noncommittal and disrespectful; some of her flames are married.
Isabelle’s dating life is chronicled, with startling nonchalance, in Let the Sunshine In, a romantic comedy-drama that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017. It is a grand subversion of a long-gestating romantic-comedy trope: a woman dates and dates, to the point where she considers giving up on looking for her very own Mr. Right, only to find the right guy at the final hour. The twist writer and director Claire Denis employs is that Isabelle will never find someone who will satisfy her. Even a seemingly climactic moment in a club, during which she slow-dances with a man (Paul Blain) — all-too-fittingly, to James’ aforementioned “At Last" — is a false lead. He, too, proves to live up to the disappointment perpetuated by other paramours.
In Let the Sunshine In, Isabelle pinballs exclusively between bad ones: a braggadocious, married banker (Xavier Beauvois); a temperamental actor who regrets a rushed sexual encounter (Nicolas Duvauchelle); and her ex-husband (Laurent Grévill). It is not so much that Isabelle has a lack of self-respect as it is that, once she has a strong emotional reaction to someone, it is difficult for her to sift out the blarney that comes with it. Sometimes, she even likes the misbehavior: In one scene, she tells a friend that part of the thrill of seeing Vincent has to do with his being a “bastard.”
Let the Sunshine In’s finest assets are its candor and Binoche’s performance. This is not much more than a portrait of someone who is unlucky in love, but Denis’ portrayal of romantic vulnerability is aching and uncomfortably funny. Binoche, predictably wonderful, gives a performance of such stunning clarity — defined by an insatiable search for something lastingly amorous — that we almost take for granted the emotional richness that imbues her portrayal.
portrait of Etta James, small and unadorned, sits in Isabelle’s (Juliette Binoche) living room. James’ best-known songs, “At Last” and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” are flecked with melancholia. “At Last” seems only a temporary breakthrough to my ears — an aural reflection of a moment in time during which you think you’ve found the one but actually haven’t. In “I’d Rather Go Blind,” James is so despondent over seeing her former lover with someone