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Foreign Film Friday: Let the Sunshine In review - muddled, marginally satisfying anti-romance drama


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Claire Denis' inimitable eye feels more distant than usual.

Let the Sunshine In perhaps only marks a departure for Claire Denis insomuch as it ditches both the evocative sensuality of Nenette and Boni and the colonial angst of White Material and Chocolat (both qualities were married in perfect harmony for Beau Travail). Instead, Sunshine is a straight-arrow romantic comedy, or Denis’ version of such a thing – an anti-romantic comedy, if you will. She seems just as unafraid to play with structure and the cadence of dialogue as she always was, but this time there is an aimlessness to the entire affair.

In a rather frank introduction, Juliette Binoche’s Isabelle takes centre stage. She is a philosophising, anxiety-ridden character, whose over-thinking forms the driving force of the entire narrative. Following her around the dating scene, every exchange she has with a lover or a friend can be jack-knifed from civility, even eroticised devotion, to hostility and scorn. It seems she is unable to crack the dating game, or at least, not without some intense existential crises to pull her backwards with each forward-step.

Such a set-up doesn’t scream originality (though little does, these days) but to Denis’ credit, she at least brings some joy to the unpredictability of her protagonist. Watching the dialogue-stacked set pieces snake around on a rollercoaster of tonal shifts can be thrilling, even if Isabelle’s moroseness and self-pity will remind a thousand manic-depressives why it is never a good idea to watch a French film on a particularly un-productive Sunday morning. And Binoche couldn’t be better at communicating those emotional aberrations – her commitment to the ‘emotional truths’ of her role harken back to when John Cassavetes made his leads do much the same thing in Faces.

But Denis is no Cassavetes. Not that we ever wanted her to be – she has made several pictures which far outweigh some of Cassavetes’ most celebrated works. But her style is completely different, and doesn’t fit the material. Such a dizzying firecracker of a script, replete with a hundred different emotional states, doesn’t marry easily with Denis’ muted dramatic technique. It’s not dry, or else we would have been looking at a French Frances Ha (imagine how much more pessimistic Frances Ha would be if it were a French film). But it does feel like we are watching Denis watch someone else’s film – we are kept at arm’s length from the laughter and the tears that could have accompanied this script.

The result of having such talented people working against the grain is that we are admiring what feels like two separate films. One is the narrative, exhausting but eventually rewarding, and the other is the imagery, beautiful, but for nought. Agnes Godard does some immaculate work, and an early long take barely registers as such until near the end of the scene, at which point the viewer is struck by how elegantly the rhythm of the sequence has been kept up. But the animosity existing between Denis and her narrative frustrates the story ever further, and given how frustratingly obtuse our protagonist is, none of this does the film any favours.

Let the Sunshine In is out now, distributed by Curiosa Films.

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