Blu-ray Review: Let the Sunshine In | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, November 14th, 2019  

Let the Sunshine In

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Aug 09, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Celebrated French director Claire Denis could probably churn out films like Let the Sunshine In annually for the next 15 years, enlisting world-class actors to carry halfhearted scripts about bourgeoisie ennui.

Fortunately, she doesn’t. She followed this intermittingly interesting but ultimately unengaging 2017 film with the art-house sci-fi experiment High Life. It reflects a career that zigs as much as it zags, bumping from expressionistic hell-trips through shady organ transplants — 2004’s The Intruder — to low-key domestic dramas like 2008’s 35 Shots of Rum.

The common thread is her ruminative pacing, a patience with the mundane details of life that reveal as much about character and setting as human nature. As one of the modern standard-bearers for slow cinema, she’s at her best when transcendental style comes to fruition, when a film resists giving easily to the viewer, requiring the audience instead to open their own interior, activating their curiosity and critical thinking. The intentional boredom and lack of action, special effects or traditional narrative increases the audience’s sensitivity, as director and writer Paul Schrader puts it. When a breakthrough occurs on screen, it is felt more directly and impactfully without adjacent Hollywood accoutrement. A pin drop is much louder in a quiet room.

Let the Sunshine In is quiet, and there is a moment near the hour mark where a burst of song and emotion from Juliet Binoche, playing lead as lonely divorcee Isabelle, would appear to mark such an impactful turning point in the film. Up to this moment she’s had affairs with two married men, one a chauvinistic banker and the other a quietly arrogant yet insecure actor. She’s failed to reunite with her ex-husband and rebuffed the awkward advances of a manipulative colleague. This scene and the following 15 minutes of film — Isabelle’s colleagues watch her dance seductively by herself to Etta James “At Last,” a stranger approaches and joins, they hold each other close and begin a brief relationship — are the most interesting moments in an otherwise arid assortment of half-drawn supporting roles and unoriginal romantic pairings.

The film drifts so closely to so many conventional narratives we’ve seen on screen in the past that it fails to bring new perspective to Isabelle’s internal conflict: She is frustrated with the implicit ownership the men in her orbit possess over both her career and her body, while she simultaneously longs for committed companionship with these same men. These are resonant themes worthy of further exploration. But Let the Sunshine In instead fails to deliver either the genre pleasures of a popcorn romance narrative nor the deeper introspection we should expect from Denis. The mundanity is made point blank when Isabelle goes to a psychic for guidance on her array of romantic possibilities. Like the film, all he offers are platitudes, “let the sunshine in,” “live the life you have to live.” In the famously universal way a psychic can provide generic advice and make it sound specific, Let the Sunshine In draws broad caricatures and calls them portraits.

Follow Ed McMenamin on twitter at @EdMcMenamin.



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