No one who watches Claire Denis’s “Un Beau Soleil Intérieur (Let the Sunshine In)” will want Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) to find love more than she does herself. As she wanders through a parade of lovers just not right for her, she longs for something easy and true. Nearly all the time, she is falling into or out of love with a brand new artist or banker or actor, but nothing is forthcoming. Denis manages to create a world far more similar to reality than most romantic comedies, one full of genuine awkwardness and mishaps and no dramatic conclusion.
The film takes the form of a series of vignettes, but this is to be expected given that it is based on Roland Barthes’ book “A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments”, a disjointed collection of stories. “Un Beau Soleil Intérieur” opens with a hilarious and realistic sex scene, full of awkward physical and emotional gestures. The tone set in this encounter continues throughout the film, as every conversation is laden with unspoken and misspoken feelings.
Each lover takes up varying amount of screentime, and their suitability for Isabelle varies as well. The closest she seems to come to happiness is with an actor (Nicolas Duvachelle). After a first date that leaves them both feeling very unsure about each other, they go home together. Because they both resist saying exactly what they want, they stand around bickering for ages before they finally go to bed, and even then neither can manage to fully shut up. Unfortunately, the actor regrets it the next day. Or maybe he doesn’t—as in life, in “Un Beau Soleil Intérieur” it is hard for one to determine exactly what anyone else is thinking.
Denis often plays upon this difficulty in communication for comedic effect. One of the funniest scenes in the film sees Isabelle trying to broach an awkward subject with a female co-worker with so much trepidation she can barely get a sentence out. In Isabelle’s world, this seems to be a regular occurrence, and goes a long way to explaining her difficulty in finding love.
In less talented hands, Isabelle could easily become a drag as the audience became annoyed by her indecision and seeming fragility. Instead, Binoche plays her to perfection, and even if the audience wishes she could just speak her mind, the fact that she often cannot elicits empathy rather than ire.
This feeling of empathy is helped greatly once the audience sees the men by whom Isabelle is surrounded. They are often absolute boors, or just as hesitant as she is. Her male friends or even just those who meet her briefly sexualize her, from a driver that continues to stare at her long after he dropped her off, to a co-worker that actively sabotages a relationship that actually seems to be going well. The most memorable and hilarious example of this is a fortune teller, played with lumbering grotesqueness by Gérard Depardieu, who is clearly hitting on her while giving her a glimpse into her future.
In a brilliant move, Denis elects to play the credits as this final scene plays out. There is no happy ending to “Un Beau Soleil Intérieur,” nor indeed any ending at all. Perhaps Isabelle will find love, perhaps she won’t. Denis sets out not to answer these questions, often considered the heart of a rom-com, but instead to paint a portrait of the difficulties of finding meaning in relationships, sexual or otherwise. The situations in which Isabelle finds herself are likely to resonate with viewers, especially women, and Denis leaves us room to discover the endings of these stories for ourselves.
—Staff writer Ethan B. Reichsman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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