Juliette Binoche plays artist in frus­trated search for love

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

Orig­i­nally called “Un beau soleil in­terieur,” which trans­lates lit­er­ally to “Bright Sun­shine In” or “A Beau­ti­ful In­door Sun,” “Let the Sun­shine In” is the some­what dorky English­language ti­tle of the new­est film from writer-di­rec­tor Claire De­nis.

The film it­self isn’t dorky in the least. It’s an el­e­gant and witty ru­mi­na­tion on one woman’s quest for ro­man­tic fire. Di­rec­tor De­nis pays close, amused at­ten­tion to the way Is­abelle, the Parisian artist played by Juliette Binoche, re­sponds to the fa­mil­iar blather of the men in her life — their dodges, their de­fense mech­a­nisms, the way they whee­dle and charm their way into her bed.

The film’s pro­tag­o­nist isn’t meant to be­guile the au­di­ence; she’s sim­ply an in­ter­est­ing tan­gle of im­pulses. De­nis and co-writer Chris­tine An­got have more on their minds than pas­sive vic­tim­hood. I’m not sure Binoche would know how to play that, in any case. Rather, “Let the Sun­shine In” al­lows Is­abelle plenty of room to make ac­tive vari­a­tions on the same mis­take over and over, the way we all do be­cause we’re hu­man and our hearts are fools, rush­ing to­ward the next prob­lem. Binoche’s per­for­mance is ex­traor­di­nar­ily alert and alive to each en­counter.

De­nis’ first im­age is that of Is­abelle on her back, naked from the waist up, wait­ing for her unin­spir­ing banker lover (Xavier Beau­vois) to fin­ish. He does so, but not be­fore thought­lessly goad­ing her with ques­tions about her pre­vi­ous lover. Then, a few sec­onds later, as he’s dressing: “See you Sun­day?” No MPAA rat­ing (some nu­dity and lan­guage) Run­ning time: 1:35

The banker, patently boor­ish and ar­ro­gant, is mar­ried; Is­abelle, di­vorced, has a daugh­ter whom she shares with her ex-hus­band (Lau­rent Gre­vill). An­other one of her cur­rent, un­cer­tainly com­mit­ted lovers (Nicolas Du­vauchelle) is an ac­tor, also mar­ried, also, prob­a­bly, for good. Over sev­eral drinks, he ac­knowl­edges his drink­ing prob­lem, a short tem­per, a hint of vi­o­lence. His life, he tells her, has be­come a grind. Their en­counter leaves them on dif­fer­ent, dis­tant shores.

Tilt it one way, and “Let the Sun­shine In” be­comes a dra­matic por­trait of a woman’s sen­sual rest­less­ness. Tilted the other way, it’s a bit­ter­sweet ro­man­tic com­edy. (At one point, the banker in­forms Is­abelle that she’s con­duct­ing her­self like “a tacky bed­room farce.”) The film keeps weaving back and forth, in­trigu­ingly. Some shots are sim­ply beau­ti­ful in their for­mal right­ness; there’s a two-minute take, for ex­am­ple, of an early scene in a quiet bar be­tween Binoche and Beau­vois, cap­tur­ing bril­liantly the push and pull of two peo­ple not quite right for each other. “It’s just not fea­si­ble,” she says to her­self, later, dis­traught, af­ter her lat­est tryst. The line comes just as she’s hav­ing trou­ble re­mov­ing her thigh-high, spiked-heel boots, and it’s a rich mo­ment.

Her ac­tor friend dismisses their at­trac­tion even as it’s hap­pen­ing, say­ing “it isn’t a love thing.” The film is, though. That phrase is the film in a nut­shell, and watch­ing Binoche try­ing to crack it af­fords a vaguely disqui­et­ing but very real sense of sat­is­fac­tion. Michael Phillips is a Tri­bune critic.

IFC FILMS

In di­rec­tor Claire De­nis' el­e­gant and witty "Let the Sun­shine In," a sen­su­ally rest­less artist (Juliette Binoche) fol­lows her heart in search of ro­man­tic fire.

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