Let the Sunshine in
Review by Maia Mathieu
Sometimes, a film is so mismarketed that the gulf between what you expect and what you get all but ruins the experience. Guillermo del Toro's 2015 gothic romance Crimson Peak was marketed as a horror movie and suffered at the box office for it. Let the Sunshine In is similarly misattributed. There are moments of humour, yes, and a plot centring around a 40-something divorcee looking for love, but to call it a 'romantic comedy' misses the mark.
Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) is a woman of a certain age who isn’t ready to give up on love, despite a divorce in her recent past, and apparently dating the worst men in Paris in her quest for it. Her attempts to navigate living life on her own terms are not always successful. While her emotional vulnerability is exquisitely lingered on with empathetic and intimate camera work it, thankfully, never feels voyeuristic. Conspiratorial, perhaps, but director Claire Denis manages to even shoot nudity and sex without ending up in male gaze territory.
It's rare that I'll feel so perplexed by my reactions to a film, but I've been chewing on this movie since I saw it, trying to figure out how I would go about writing this review. There are aspects that I do genuinely appreciate, the rich emotionality and sensuality of the direction and Binoche's performance, the centering of a woman's emotional life and the atmospheric score. However, if you were to distil all the clichéd, stereotypical ideas of 'Frenchness' into a movie, this is what you'd end up with, for good or for ill. And the mansplaining, Dear God, the mansplaining! Not since Carrie Bradshaw have I encountered a woman protagonist so buffeted by a parade of terrible men mansplaining a) love in general, b) why they're terrible men but that's just how they are, baby, deal with it and c) how to be emotionally open.
Her initial paramour is a repulsive, emotionally sadistic married banker whose awfulness she later admits to a friend was part of the attraction, and honestly, the cast of assholes doesn't much improve from there. Her second love interest, a married actor with a drinking problem, is introduced by him emotionally dumping on her like she's his therapist and not a virtual stranger, only to later depart the narrative by telling her it's 'not a love thing' after playing nearly every emotionally passive-aggressive card in the deck. Then there's her ex-husband who yells at her that he still owns half her apartment when she tries to assert some boundaries with him after a failed attempt at hooking up post-divorce. I’m still not entirely certain what Gerard Depardieu was doing here at all.
Overall, despite Isabelle’s emotional masochism and the casual cruelty of the men in her life, there’s a gently wry edge that acknowledges the neediness and deep insecurities in us all and it’s that rueful touch that makes the film impossible to hate. I probably won’t go back to this one, though, and certainly don’t suggest it for a date movie!