Cannes 2017: Let the Sunshine In Review
Let the Sunshine In could easily be boxed in and described as a French intellectual’s idea of an American romantic comedy, but that seems like a reductive analysis of something as enigmatic as Claire Denis’ latest film. The initial comparisons to Nancy Meyers aren’t all too far off, but Meyers has never been so scathing and harsh on the every man, Isabelle’s (Juliette Binoche) favorite type of lover. It is a rare movie that seems at odds with its genre — the romance is fleeting and the jokes often revolve around Isabelle’s sadness. In that way, it is more of a Denis film than the label would let on. Binoche’s performance as neurotic, barely held together woman looking for love is
Binoche’s performance as neurotic, barely held together woman looking for love is why Let the Sunshine In works. She has always been a chameleon actress, but here she is required to flip modes so frequently and rapidly. Isabelle can go from enamored to enraged, resilient to vulnerable in a moment’s notice and Binoche does it naturally and comedically. The performance is incredibly dimensional, especially for a comedy that is often quite screwball. In fact, the film is successful because Binoche finds the ironic comedy in her character’s depressive state. It is a performance that is larger than life but is still grounded on familiar idiosyncrasies.
The film follows Isabelle as she hops from man to man, trying to find something substantial and fulfilling. Her lovers all variations on a theme of the men that women in their 50s find while looking for love. Her first is a charming and successful married banker (Xavier Beauvois) who, in the opening scene is caught in a very intimate moment with Isabelle. Their chemistry is strong and Isabelle confuses the passion for stability until he says very plainly that he won’t leave his wife for her — “You’re charming, but my wife is extraordinary.” This harsh exchange is a synecdoche for the tragic comedy of Isabelle’s life that unfolds with successive lovers.
The other men consist of an actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who equally doesn’t know what he wants and it disguises his intentions. His personal unsureness seems like a phony way for him to keep Isabelle on a tight leash while maintaining his freedom. She then reverts back to her past by having a brief sexual encounter with her ex-husband (Laurent Grevill), which goes south after an argument about bedroom practices. A couple other men make guest appearances vying for Isabelle’s heart including a fortune teller (Gérard Depardieu) that is more interested in being in Isabelle’s future than telling it. These men are written with many doggish qualities shared between them. Yet, they all appear to be searching for something legitimate, they just happen to find it in a vulnerable woman.
Let the Sunshine In is so successful at reinventing the romantic comedy because it doesn’t idealize its lead or scenario. Isabelle is a mess by anyone’s standards and the men she associates with are all garden variety scumbags, but everyone has a very human, honest side to them. It can be a dangerous, condemning movie for the casual moviegoer if they allow for it to be. Each of the characters is a sort of mirror for many of the worst qualities that individuals practice while they are dating. Isabelle is especially familiar at her highest and lowest. She is an intelligent individual whose personality and desires are at conflict with her personal perception of her best self. The internal turmoil is recognizable to anyone, midlife crisis sufferer or not.
Still, Let the Sunshine In isn’t always the easiest viewing. The style of humor can be quite arduous, which is hard to fault Denis for because it is exactly the point. Isabelle’s routine of falling in love rapidly becomes exhaustingly circular, just like life. Denis has a clear grasp on what makes Isabelle’s life so banal and relatable, yet she knows how to make an audience squirm even when she is making a film as cozy as a romcom.