October 24, 2008

The Renaissance of Kristin Scott Thomas: I've Loved You So Long

Kristin Scott Thomas was on the cusp of Hollywood leading ladydom a little over a decade ago after her smoldering Oscar nominated performance in The English Patient. Her two subsequent mainstream American films where she was teamed with Hollywood's leading men -- Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer and Harrison Ford in Random Hearts -- were both flops artistically and commercially, so she returned to her family in her adopted France and has been working on smaller mostly European films and theatre.

But she's back on the Oscar radar with her exquisite performance in I've Loved You So Long the new film written and directed by French novelist Phillipe Claudel which opens today. She's also plays a pivotal role in the word of mouth movie of the summer the French thriller Tell No One by Guillaume Canet based on the novel by Harlan Coben. It's a wonderful thriller with great twists and turns. And she made her Broadway debut this fall as Arkadina is the spectacularly reviewed The Seagull opposite Peter Sarsgaard and I'm sure is already shortlisted for a Tony next spring. I personally felt that Sarsgaard was miscast and that the two of them had very little chemistry, but I am in the minority with this opinion.

Her new film I've Loved you So Long tells the story of a woman just released from 15 years in prison for killing her son. This is tough stuff and not a movie for the faint hearted. But it is a good movie, so good because the story of her life is seen on her face not through the words, and Scott Thomas bares herself in a way that you can't help but sympathize with her. Her performance (even though it is a foreign film) is so good that it has propelled her to the top tier of contenders for the best actress nomination.

We first see her sitting in an airport looking drab and sallow with not a stitch of makeup on. The stillness of her face sucks you in. Her much younger sister (Elsa Zylberstein) willingly takes her in after her release desperate to get to know her sister and to find out why she would kill her own child. The film is about these two women getting to know each other again, and about Juliette's (Scott Thomas) reintegration into society. As Juliette thaws after her long incarceration, color is restored to her face and to the film's palette.

The circumstances surrounding the death of her son are complicated and not totally plausible when the truth is revealed (which I don't want to give away.) But the death of her child doomed Juliette to prison no matter if she was locked up or free to roam. You see that sadness and emptiness on every frame of the film.

Here's the preview: