For most people, love is a constant slope towards madness and eventual pain. We crave it, but sometimes, when it’s not the type that we desire, we throw it away. Basically, adult relationships are messy, complicated, and according to celebrated director Claire Denis’ 2017 bleak comedy, Let The Sunshine In, brutally human. With an amazingly complex and subtle performance by the usually compelling Juliette Binoche, Denis paints a frustratingly truthful portrait of love that most directors couldn’t or wouldn’t touch.
Binoche brilliantly plays Isabelle, a divorced but successful painter in Paris, whose frequent demands for love belittle her ultimate desire: real romantic satisfaction. She pummels through one relationship after another with a series of unsuitable men, including a boorish married lawyer with snobby attitude, an actor who hasn’t entirely rid himself of his wife, her brash ex-husband, a mysterious and spooky gent, and a distinguished member of the art world who ultimately doesn’t want a relationship with her. At the end of the film, she meets with a fortune-teller played by Gerald Depardieu (in a mischievous cameo) who tells her that a true relationship will not exist, but that she should never stop her quest for the right man.
The title is quite the misdirection because there may never be complete happiness nor sunshine for Isabelle. Her constant search for true love, especially for a woman in her fifties, doesn’t seem to be based on reality. This is quite annoying on how realistic the journey is because many people have been in the same predicament as Isabelle, and only a very few actually find their true love. The others, continue on and even risk themselves in the process, for something that isn’t really there is the first place. That is the horrible essence of love, for better and definitely for worse.
Although the Criterion edition only has a few supplements, they are good. They include the trailer; new interviews with both Denis and Binoche; and Volia l’enchainement (2014), a short film by Denis which was adapted from a text by Sunshine cowriter Christine Angot, featuring actors Norah Krief and Alex Descas. There is also a great new essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek.
Many film lovers may be turned off by the actions of the main character, but she is a real woman with flaws and insecurities. She can be a contradiction, but she represents how love can make or break us. I only liked it, but didn’t love it at first. However, with another viewing, I could love it. It is Denis at her most assured and Binoche at her most multifaceted.