REVIEW: Un beau soleil intérieur [Let the Sunshine In] [2017]

Rating: 4 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 94 minutes
    Release Date: September 27th, 2017 (France)
    Studio: Ad Vitam Distribution / Sundance Selects
    Director(s): Claire Denis
    Writer(s): Christine Angot & Claire Denis / Roland Barthes (book A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments)

Being a backstreet lover is just unbearable.

Is love all consuming? Or disposable? If you discover it’s one above the other, how do you know you’re right? The answer is simple: love is whatever you need it to be for yourself. Don’t compromise your happiness or comfort. Don’t allow your beau to walk over your feelings to pretend what you have now is enough despite your needing more. Leave yourself open to change and—as the title to Claire Denis‘ latest film states—Un beau soleil intérieur [Let the Sunshine In]. Because what you have now, while nice, isn’t necessarily the best. Throw monogamy to the wind and embrace changing desires. Finding love isn’t to also never love again. Striving to make love about soulmates only hides you from the next potential soulmate that has yet to arrive.

Adapted by Denis and Christine Angot from Roland BarthesA Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, the film focuses on a painter lost in an abyss of problematic men she’s too quick to fall for out of a seeming desperation to settle down and be complete. Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) believed she already was after finding the father of her daughter (Laurent Grévill‘s François), but it wasn’t to be. So now she seeks that connection elsewhere whether from old or young. She finds safety in the arms of an art-loving banker (Xavier Beauvois‘ Vincent), passion with an acclaimed actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle), and a unique sensibility as yet never experienced with a man so far outside her artistic realm of friends that they dismiss him as a vagrant on welfare (Paul Blain‘s Sylvain).

Is one better than the next? Can they exist as equals, each providing something the other cannot so that Isabelle may decide which is best suited to her needs? Or do their problems begin to define them above their love—after all, Beauvois and Duvauchelle’s characters are each married (one happily and unwilling to ever leave his wife while the other is unhappy and ready to escape). Suddenly we see that the love Isabelle finds with each isn’t shared besides a feeling of lust. These men want her, but don’t need her. They’re willing to do whatever is necessary to change the course of conversation and action to their whims, contentedly smiling when she refuses to comply because they’ve already achieved their goal regardless of the tryst continuing.

So we’re left watching Isabelle cry in sadness. We’re left to shake our heads at the different varieties of the same man that Denis places onscreen: a self-centered egotist who treats his mistress from wives (Vincent and the actor), friends (Sylvain), or family (Alex Descas‘ “nice guy” Marc) as a conquest gained rather than an equal with which to bear his soul. She wants that connection—or at least she wants it sometimes. Other moments find her craving the physical, carnal delights of sex as much as the man in her arms. Sometimes that’s enough and sometimes it’s not. But such is life. One is enough at the start of a relationship, but eventually the other must make itself possible. Otherwise what’s the point? Isabelle deserves it all.

Unfortunately for Denis, however, this film never finds success in letting us care. It moves from one boyfriend to the next with breakneck speed, sometimes introducing new people (Sandrine Dumas‘ Ariane) for no other reason than to allow for a confusing conversation about yet another new player to the game. This scene is so weird because Isabelle had just slept with the aforementioned nameless actor and now speaks to her friend about getting back together with her husband, only to depart again. Wait. Did that mean Duvauchelle was her ex and their “chance encounter” was roleplaying? It was the first sense of excitement and surprise I felt and it was ruined once the next scene revealed François as someone else. I guess the disorientation was merely poor writing.

In the end the whole of Let the Sunshine In reveals itself to be exactly that. It’s not necessarily irredeemable, just a monotonous bore of miscues and failed judgment. The revolving door of men reveals them to be completely interchangeable, her reactions to each so familiar that we eventually must wonder if she’s the real problem here. It’s a shame because Binoche is great in the role. The way she moves from elation to depression because of what someone says is effortless, her yearning for love so great that she can’t avoid the inevitable devastation when reality rears its head. But there’s no growth to her character. There are no lessons learned. All we receive is her getting advice to keep swinging for the fences.

Was the man who got away her soulmate? How about the one she pines for who says he’ll soon be ready to give romance a try? According to an out-of-nowhere bit part played by Gérard Depardieu (who earns his own random introduction of scorned love that had me thinking someone inexplicably cut another film into this one): they all are. Why? Because each one gives her something she needs in that moment. They are each her soulmate at that specific time, helping to fill a current void while also preparing her heart and mind for another stranger to cross her path. But what about learning to love herself first? What about the quiet interludes in between relationships wherein she discovers happiness from within? Are they not cinematic enough?

Apparently it’s more interesting to watch men hound her upon learning she’s moved on or her begging for more from those keeping their distance. It would be interesting if there was some grand epiphany, but the long conversations shared only epitomize Isabelle’s own description of dinner with Duvauchelle’s actor: “I feel like we said nothing. We got nowhere.” It’s always her opposite a new man gauging whether or not to make a move. And it’s as though every man she sees is daring her to consider him a potential suitor, each volunteering that she’s crazy for dating the last guy as though it proves his worth. But they’re just as bad. They only speak for personal gain and it’s obnoxious enough to turn one celibate in avoidance.

[1] Juliette Binoche as Isabelle in Claire Denis’ LET THE SUNSHINE IN. Courtesy of Sundance Selects. A Sundance Selects release.
[2] Juliette Binoche as Isabelle, and Nicolas Duvauchelle as The Actor in Claire Denis’ LET THE SUNSHINE IN. Courtesy of Sundance Selects. A Sundance Selects release.
[3] Juliette Binoche as Isabelle in Claire Denis’ LET THE SUNSHINE IN. Courtesy of Sundance Selects. A Sundance Selects release.

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