“Desire is a relation to being to lack. The lack is the lack of being properly speaking. It is not the lack of this or that, but lack of being whereby the being exists.” —Jacques Lacan
Understanding what Lacan is saying will help you enjoy the dynamics of the characters that populate Let the Sunshine In (Un beau soleil intérieur), the new film by French director Claire Denis. Following her dark and obtuse mystery, Bastards (2013), Denis surprises with a romantic dramedy co-written with Christine Angot and based on Roland Barthes’s book A Lover’s Discourse. The film follows a divorced painter played by the ultra-talented Juliette Binoche. Isabelle is juggling several lovers and love interests as she maneuvers the emotional roller coaster of a love life at a mature age. A couple of the men are married, and they are pretty direct about their intentions of not leaving their wives. One of them even tells Isabelle that his wife is an “extraordinary woman.” As much as this film might seem like an indictment of men who can’t seem to commit, the film actually says more about the individual looking to fill a personal void with these men.
Conversations are key to illustrating Isabelle’s romantic let downs, and there is a lot of talking in the movie. But, like a great Eric Rohmer movie, these conversations reveal more about the characters as they build upon the back and forth between the individuals. The scenes are lengthy but dynamic and often mix humor and melancholy in a way that doesn’t condemn the men as much as provide insight into Isabelle’s desire. This desire is as dynamic and complex as these interactions. It is laced with patience, anger, heartache and that “lack of being” Lacan speaks of. As much as the conversations illustrate the profound emptiness in Isabelle they also add dimension to the men she tries to love. These are men who might otherwise seem like flat antagonists to her emotional predicament and loneliness. They have their own conflicts that speak to their weaknesses as lovers, as much as Isabelle sometimes tries to hope otherwise.
As we meet the men, each is more interesting than the last. First there’s the art collector Vincent (Xavier Beauvois), who seems the flattest of the group. With his ordering of a bartender to place glasses at exact spots on the bar, he becomes easy to revile. But it’s a certain cruel lie he tells Isabelle that pushes him into the territory of unworthiness. Soon after we meet a younger man simply credited as L’acteur in the credits (Nicolas Duvauchelle). At first, he seems to understand the drive of desire and role of lack in it, but the more he talks, the more he devolves into wishy-washiness. Everyone has weaknesses as well as power. Even a neutral man in Isabelle’s life, a sort of fortune teller/therapist played by the always engaging Gérard Depardieu is first introduced with his own weakness in dealing with the opposite sex. Yet Isabelle seems most content and attentive to his words during their session, which ultimately leads to the significance of the film’s title, as it addresses the idea of a soulmate that isn’t necessarily a person outside of the individual.
Denis is well known for having an elliptical style of filmmaking, defying straight narrative structure for atmosphere and thematic elements, but Let the Sunshine In feels like her straightest narrative in a long while. However, the film still jumps around with little transitional scenes, save for a beautifully shot, peaceful moment of Isabelle alone on a cross-country train trip. This is significant thematically, speaking to her own need to be at peace with herself to find her bliss with others. I would have loved for that scene to have gone on indulgently in a contemplative long take, which speaks to the importance of the individual in relationships as well as Binoche’s skill as an actress in scenes of stillness. Let the Sunshine In is a subtle film than never feels subtle, and this speaks to the excellent craftsmanship of Denis, who has made an entertaining film from start to finish even if the finish seems so open-ended that the credits roll during it. Sly move.
Let the Sunshine In runs 94 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is not rated. It opens in our Miami area exclusively at the Coral Gables Art Cinema on Friday, May 11. Further north it will open at the Cinemathique of Daytona in Daytona Beach. Then, on Friday, May 18, it comes to the Classic Gateway Theatre in Fort Lauderdale, Cobb Theatres – Downtown Gardens 16 in Palm Beach and the Living Room Cinema 4 in Boca Raton. Finally, on June 1, it comes to the Miami Beach Cinematheque. For screenings in other parts of the U.S., visit this link. IFC Films/Sundance Selects sent us a DVD screener for the purpose of this review.