I've Loved You So Long (PG-13) (115 min.) — Philippe Claudel's drama is thematically similar to Rachel Getting Married: A woman released from incarceration tries to rekindle her relationship with a sister who never does anything wrong, all while coping with the dreadful act that put her away. Yet there's never a feeling that we've seen this movie before.
Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient) plays Juliette, a grim parolee who hasn't forgiven herself for killing someone close to her heart. Claudel keeps the details of Juliette's crime mysterious until the final act, so it won't be spoiled here. Small details dropped along the way — Juliette's short temper, her hesitant attraction to the adopted children of her sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) — forces viewers to surmise the worst, yet we can't be certain.
I've Loved You So Long methodically traces Juliette's journey back to something like normalcy, with Lea's unflagging faith in a sister she always admired despite everything. Nothing really happens in Claudel's movie, at least not by American cinema standards, but everything matters. It's understandable if viewers become restless, but patience is rewarded.
Scott Thomas is remarkable in her command of French, a second tongue that somehow makes her more expressive than usual. Zylberstein is a real discovery, effortlessly conveying Lea's loyalty and veiled fear that she is overestimating Juliette's potential to go straight. Together they are yet another example of the trend toward feminine relationships on screen that aren't nasty or based on shopping habits.
Claudel's film is shown with English subtitles. B+
Steve Persall, Times film critic