Claire Denis’ 2017 film Let The Sunshine In (Un beau soleil interieur) is a tribute to the artistry of Juliette Binoche. As the director’s first collaboration with the equally legendary French actress, the film is an intimate journey through the life of a middle-age woman searching for love and fighting the fear of never finding it.
Binoche stars as Isabelle, a divorced painter with a daughter. Isabelle moves from man to man, finding deeply flawed, ego-centric characters. None of the men really love her, they just love the idea of being with her. The man we see her spending most of her time with is Vincent (Xavier Beauvois), a married banker who thinks he can just randomly walk in and out of Isabelle’s life for sex without leaving his wife. He has as little care for her feelings as another man, a self-obsessed actor (Nicolas Ducauchelle), who cannot stop talking even to catch his breath. At one point, Isabelle has a conversation with a taxi driver and it seems like the first time she really talks to someone who cares to listen to her.
Let The Sunshine In was written by Denis with Christine Angot, based on A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes. It lives up to the source material’s Fragments subtitle, as the film is structured that way. There’s no real beginning-middle-end to this film, or even anything close to a climax. It’s all about presenting a snapshot of a woman’s life with authenticity. People come and people go in all our lives’ and the search for love and happiness is never really as easy as we think.
An overly simplistic reading of the film might be that Isabelle discovers that loving oneself is as important as finding love from others. But that’s not really the whole story. During her discussion with the fortuneteller David (Gerard Depardieu), she is told one of her other lovers will come back into her life, showing the cyclical nature of life. It’s something that gives her hope for the future.
Binoche really is one of the greatest actresses in the world, and her performance here makes what could be a drab film arresting. You can’t keep your eyes off her as she plays through the full range of emotions over 95 minutes. It is astounding during that final scene, where two giants of French cinema just talk and they still have our full attention.
The Denis-Binoche partnership might only include this film so far, but they are both masters to the point it feels like they have made dozens of movies together. Both seem to understand the other’s oeuvre fully. They bring out the best in each other.
Criterion released Let The Sunshine In on Blu-ray on May 21, 2019 as part of their ongoing partnership with IFC Films. It is only the second Denis film in the collection, following her 2008 masterwork White Material.
As Let The Sunshine In was completely made through a digital process, it looks remarkable on Blu-ray. Agnes Godard’s unique cinematography, framed in an equally unique 1.60:1 ratio, is exquisite. The overall presentation is perfect.
The supplements is where this release is lacking the extra “oomph” found on most Criterion releases. The label always seems to have a hard time lately stacking new films with extras, which is a little disappointing. But what we do get for this film is all engaging.
- Claire Denis – for 21 minutes, the director discusses her intentions of the film and how every decision she made went towards molding Isabelle. Denis also touches on the film’s basis and how artist Joan Mitchell was an added influence on the main character.
- Juliette Binoche – The actress spends 17 minutes talking about the film, and how she became interested in the project. Binoche is incredibly energetic and shows a real love for Denis and the final film that’s infectious.
- Voilá l’enchaînement (2014) – The third main feature is not directly related to Let The Sunshine In, but its theme of a disintegrating relationship seems tangentially related. Based on a text by Angot, the 30-minute film features actors Norah Krief and Alex Descas (who has a small part in the main film) as an interracial couple whose marriage is falling apart. It’s not an easy watch, but an essential example of what Denis can do.
- “One Love” – The insert includes an essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek that explores the themes of the film.
Let The Sunshine In probably does not rank high among Denis’ works (I’ll admit to only having seen this and White Material), as it seems like a film made to be a small detour from bigger things. After all, her next movie was High Life, a science fiction epic starring Robert Pattinson, making Let The Sunshine In seem absolutely quaint. But nothing is too quaint when you have Juliette Binoche as the star.