Opening the Director’s Fortnight this year, Bright Sunshine In (Un Beau Soleil Intérieur) is an often disarming but always exciting new film from the French master Claire Denis.
“In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
– T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
Despite being a master filmmaker across multiple genres and styles, Claire Denis retains from film to film an unmatched ability to surprise even her biggest fans. For its extremity, Denis’ sudden and unexpected foray into body horror with Trouble Every Day is perhaps the most distinct example of her eclectic interests as a filmmaker. Yet quieter fare such as Bastards was just as daring, if only as her first ever foray into digital cinematography. Far from being a sign of indecisiveness, this variety is the mark of a profound and always inspiring self-confidence on Denis’ part. Thirty years into her career, Bright Sunshine In continues this tradition. It’s Denis’ first film to resemble, if ever so slightly, a comedy.
Denis herself is reluctant to describe the film as such: “I always thought I was pretty funny myself!” she said in a post-screening Q&A yesterday. Although the film’s humour stands out the most by virtue of it being unexpected in Denis’ movies, it works hand in hand with a profound sense of sadness at the core of the film.'I always thought I was pretty funny myself!' - Claire DenisClick To Tweet
Fiftysomething Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), a highly emotional, unhappily divorced woman, is driven through her life by desperation alone. Indecisive and lonely, she frenetically looks in almost every man she meets for the true love she feels she never had. From charming and romantic to awkward or downright horrible, the men Isabelle gradually gets involved with, to varying degrees of commitment, never seem to perfectly ‘match’ with her — if at all.
Perpetually at the wrong place at the wrong time, none of these characters are what the other needs right now. Miscommunications, absurd situations, and confusion ensue, with all the hilarity and profound sadness that they imply. In one of the film’s most hilarious scenes, Isabelle bursts into a sudden, pathetic rage at her art world friends while in the middle of a forest: impatient and increasingly frustrated, she hardly has any time for bourgeois philosophical musings among the quiet countryside.'Miscommunications, absurd situations, and confusion ensue, with hilarity and profound sadness.'Click To Tweet
Even here, Isabelle’s incredibly swift mood swings are believable and moving. When she goes from smiles to sobs within a single uninterrupted take — a very impressive feat on Binoche’s part — neither the film nor the audience laugh at her expense. As novelist and screenwriter Christine Angot pointed out during the Q&A, the humour doesn’t lie in Isabelle’s emotions themselves but in the way they are communicated. “When people tell you stories of how they met someone, they’re often the first to laugh, because they’re aware that it sounds funny and ridiculous, even though, to them, it is a very serious matter indeed.” When we laugh at Isabelle, we laugh at the exterior manifestation of her emotions. The film partakes in a black comedy of sorts, highlighting the contrast between her desperation and her ridiculous appearance, but always remains on her side.Denis’ first true comedy is profound and attuned to the complexity of human relationships.Click To Tweet
Yet Isabelle’s attempts to communicate with these men are genuinely touching, and sequences thus constantly oscillate between comedy and earnestness. The film’s style adjusts to the register, with long shots underlining the distance between characters during sequences of amusing awkwardness. Meanwhile, Agnes Godard’s delicate cinematography highlights, in gorgeous close-ups, the tenderness that characters feel for one another as they finally say what they mean and are understood. They manage to get closer.
Isabelle goes through a real rollercoaster of emotions, and so do we, on our toes throughout, never knowing what she will do or feel next. Even more confused after her search for real love than she was before she began, she resorts to asking a fortune-teller for advice. This final, crowning sequence thus sees none other than Gerard Depardieu, pendulum in his grotesquely enormous hand, describe to Isabelle the love of her life — himself. Even funnier than this shameless abuse of her trust are the metatextual-references to the actor himself: “you will meet someone…weightier, a man who represents something,” says Depardieu with a completely straight face.BRIGHT SUNSHINE IN is a tale of frustrations and desires, otherness and encounters.Click To Tweet
A tale of frustrations and desires, otherness and encounters, Denis’ first true comedy — or shall we say, her first genuinely humorous film — proves just as profound and attuned to the complexity of human relationships as her previous work. Although this final sequence begins on a darkly comic note, Denis brilliantly ends the film with a heartwarmingly generous idea, quietly and elegantly blindsiding the audience. In this chaotic world of uncertainty, the scene shines the first ray of hope for Isabelle; not in the person of any man, but in herself, at last.
Read more articles by Elena Lazic here.