SIFF Film Review – Let the Sunshine In
Let the Sunshine In
I like being married a lot, mostly because my husband is awesome, but also, I never want to date again. I was last single 18 years ago, and back then Internet dating was still kind of weird. Do people even still meet possible partners out in the real world? I hated marketing classes in business school and would never have gotten laid if my success depended on an online profile. “Must like European board games and movies with stabbing.” In Claire Denis’ new film Let the Sunshine In, there is ne’er a dating app to be seen, which is refreshing in a movie whose protagonist is obsessed with finding love. Maybe it’s a French thing. Or maybe it takes place in an imaginary land I would want to go to if I got divorced. Unfortunately, real life encounters don’t seem to be working out that much for Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), the film’s heroine.
Painter Isabelle is recently divorced and in her early 50s. With menopause on the horizon (if not already a fact) and no man to call her own, she is frantic to find love. And she doesn’t want just love, she wants desire. The call of Eros has not left her, and she is desperate to find her soul mate. She has several men in her life: the controlling financier who tells her she is charming but his wife is amazing, the vacillating married actor, her ex-husband she still hooks up with, a working class man she has trouble welcoming into her circle of friends, and a friend who has to leave town before anything can really happen. Isabelle’s encounters with these men are humorous, but heart-rending. She wants it too much. While she goes back and forth with them about her desires, they are caught up in their own middle-aged quests for fulfillment and have no inclination to give her what she wants.
It’s interesting to me that Isabelle always leads with sex. She wants to get there as soon as possible, which causes issues with one of her paramours who mostly just likes the tension leading up to the physical stuff. He doesn’t really want to go forward after they succumb to passion. Her ideas of romance are grounded in the physical, and it is hard to tell if she doesn’t realize that sex and love are not the same thing, or if for her they are. She keeps sleeping with people she doesn’t really like, and then feels despair over the fact the relationships don’t work out. The individual characteristics of the men hardly seem to matter; it is their desire for her that is fulfilling at first. When that does not grow into a sustaining relationship, she despairs that she will never find love. Isabelle is kind of a train wreck, and I wanted to yell advice to her throughout the movie. “Girl, the qualities that make someone exciting in bed and good in a relationship are not really the same thing. One of those things can be worked out with helpful suggestions, the other requires a lot of work you don’t want to do. Maybe adjust your expectations of what makes a desirable partner and you will be happier. Or stop looking for true love and enjoy your sexual exploits a little more.”
This film felt a lot like listening to a close (but annoying) girlfriend talk about her disastrous love life. And a large part of the audience’s enjoyment of this film will weigh on their ability to sympathize with a not-too-terribly likable protagonist. Let the Sunshine In is solely focused on Isabelle’s love life; her daughter only makes a brief appearance, as does her work. Anything else she might be is subsumed by her thirst for love. She pushes and prods, lies and tells truths nobody really wants to hear. As annoying as the men around her are, I felt a little sorry for them. Her need is so overwhelming there is no room in her for what they might be experiencing. But Binoche is wonderful, and turns what could be a monstrous vortex of need into a complicated character looking to connect. Maybe Isabelle is too real with her bad choices and indecision for me to comfortably sympathize with. Maybe it is better to reach out blindly than to give up all hope and settle for what one does not want. I dunno. I speculate from the safety of an enjoyable marriage.