Moment in the Sun

By Jason Solomons

Juliette Binoche is a screen animal. She comes alive with the camera, turning on a full-wattage luminescence that is truly dazzling to behold. There are moments during her latest film, Let the Sunshine In, when you need dark glasses to watch her, like when you’re staring at an eclipse even after a professor on BBC News has told you not to.

In a story of romantic shenanigans that unfurls like a sophisticated bedroom farce, Binoche plays Isabelle, a Parisian artist successful on the canvas but less so in love. She’s divorced, with a ten-year-old daughter whom she shares with her ex-husband, and, now in her 50s, she’s also desperate to find a spark of love again.

Isabelle has no trouble finding men. I mean, she’s Juliette Binoche, so it’s hardly going to be a struggle, plus she wears a fetching line in décolleté jumpers and some thigh-length boots which she struggles to get off every night, as if resenting their necessity. This Isabelle is gloriously in charge of her body, but not her fate. And, despite that aforementioned luminosity, which brings the boys like moths to a flame, it’s finding the right man that proves significantly tougher.

When first we see Isabelle, she’s on her back, having sex. By the sound of it, not terribly fulfilling sex, either, and soon the heaving lump on top of her is revealed to be an arrogant, married banker who clearly thinks he’s great, while it’s clear Isabelle’s had enough of him. At the local fishmonger she meets an art-world acquaintance who invites her to his holiday house down in the Lot. A gossip, he lets slip that her new gallerist (Josiane Balasko) might have had an affair with her ex-husband years ago.

And on it goes. Next, Isabelle’s with a whining, drunken actor a few years her junior. I think she likes him and the sex is great. She beams with added glow after he spends the night with her. But he, too, will let her down. Her group show exhibition is a bit of a nightmare, a confusion of ex-lovers, suitors and prospective clients. Even when she takes the fish guy up on his offer of a weekend away, the entourage of art lovers and bourgeois conversation inspires a bit of a meltdown.

‘What do you do when you’re not in love?’ wonders one man. He may be right. Isabelle never seems to give up. Even after that outburst in the country, she can’t avoid a new hope when a rakish smoothie sidles up to her on the dance floor of a provincial night club and twirls her around to Etta James’s bluesy anthem At Last. And hold on, there’s still a big finale to come involving... Gérard Depardieu, of all people.

Like Céline Dion in that dreadful song, her heart will go on. And Isabelle knows it. ‘I’m a bit obsessed by my emotional relationships,’ she admits. And we veer from pity to admiration. Why shouldn’t she be happy? But, hang on a minute, is this really the way to go about it? It seems obvious to me that she’s so much better than these pompous, posing Frenchmen. Then again, I think that about most French women. It’s why they’re so thin, whittled down by a combination of cigarettes and having to listen to their menfolk spouting pseudo-philosophical merde.

Let the Sunshine In is directed and co-written by Claire Denis, who’s one of the finest female filmmakers of recent decades. This is her take on a rom-com, I suppose, in that it’s only a bit romantic and not particularly comic, at least not in a Love Actually way. It’s more vague, and impressionistic, and very, very talky – these men are so afraid of the heart that they’d rather intellectualise their way through life.
Not Isabelle. Not Binoche. She just keeps hoping, beaming and letting that sunshine in.