Juliette Binoche plays artist in frustrated search for love
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.
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.