In some circles, French Director Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In has been described as a romantic comedy. Yes, Isabelle’s (Juliette Binoche) amorous entanglements are piercingly funny at times, but her acerbic, doomed yet ever-hopeful search for true love at a certain age reaches far beyond breezy rom-com fare.
Denis’s scintillating script (co-written with Christine Angot) jumps out and grabs you by the lapels with as much energy as the most audacious cinematography and editing. Through Isabelle, Denis reveals the nature of fulfilling relationships in a manner analogous to Plato’s Socratic Method, by implicitly pointing toward the ideal. She begins by scrutinizing matchups, then showing how they fall short—revealing essence by making concrete what something is not. No worries, Let the Sunshine In is not an existential treatise on the nature of existence. Jean-Paul Sartre isn’t mentioned even once.
Binoche is brilliant, appearing in almost every frame. A series of men in her life appear and disappear, to and fro, as if scampering through a revolving door straight out of RomCom Central. Images flow effortlessly and unobtrusively, including abundant close-ups that accentuate Isabelle’s inner state. She laments intimacy lost: “It’s like my love life is behind me. It’s all over. There’s nothing left.” Binoche played a woman also dealing with aging in Clouds of Sils Maria (one of my top-10 film picks from 2014).
The film opens with Isabelle and a married banker (Xavier Beauvois) having sex. They generate a tad more sensual fire than two people running on treadmills. The reason soon becomes clear: the man is an insufferable boor. When he senses she wants more from the relationship, he tells her he will never leave his wife. “You’re charming, but my wife is extraordinary.”
Other men follow— more or less crass, educated, poor, rich, churlish, cultured, loutish, sensitive, old, young, bald or fully-maned— none right for the long term.
Just when you think the film is about to veer off a cliff into nihilistic oblivion, an amusing line or farcical scene erupts out of nowhere. After several disappointing encounters with a series of financially and socially upscale men, we catch up with Isabelle on a nature hike. She endures their conversation, listening to the men impose their abstract taxonomy of property rights over the natural terrain. Finally, she’s had enough, and lets everyone within earshot know it. No wonder Isabelle comes off as a little high strung at times. If only her suitors could see the world through her eyes.
At the tail end of the film, Gérard Depardieu suddenly appears as a fortune-teller in a scene that sheds light, so to speak, on the puzzling English interpretation of Let the Sunshine In. The original French title, Un Beau Soleil Intérieur, literally means “A Beautiful Inner Sun.” These are two very different sentiments. The English translation implies energy and light come from without, whereas the original title suggests we generate luminescence from within. I can imagine those same American marketers/translators wanting to add a tagline: “You have to kiss a lot of frogs (no ethnic slur intended) before you find your prince.” Let The Sunshine In, opens at Salem Cinema June 8.