Let the Sunshine In
Let the Sunshine In screens at the AMC River East 21 on Sunday October 22 at 5:45PM and Monday, October 23 at 5:45PM. For additional ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.
Claire Denis, akin to Hou Hsiao-Hsien, has this fascinating capacity to reinvent the parameters of realism. Hou scholar Richard Suchenski suggested that Hou tends to discover a film’s form in the process of making it and one gathers that’s fundamentally how Denis approaches the process of filmmaking as well. A recent interview with Denis at MUBI sees the director describe her process with illuminating candor as the following:
“I’m not American, so the word ‘structure’... Me, I’m always intuitive with my structure. It’s transitory. It’s something you need at a certain point, then you have to forget about it, go back to it. I hate the structure as a form of narration. I like ellipses. I like blocks. I like moments. And I try to make films with that.”
Let the Sunshine In has been described, somewhat reductively, as a Claire Denis comedy. Certainly anything that follows the pitch-black bleakness of Bastards would be comparatively light, but there’s still a hell of a lot of truth packed in Sunshine, and sometimes that truth can cut straight to the bone. The film details the lovelorn travails of Isabelle (a luminous Juliette Binoche). We’re first introduced to her having sex with Vincent (Xavier Beauvois), a pudgy, shall we say, inelegant figure of a man. Here, we find Denis’ recognizable qualities as a filmmaker: the tactile movement of bodies and the profound intimacy that comes with sharing your body with another human being. These moments, shot in carnal close-up, give way to a startling medium shot that sees Binoche limp, disinterested, and ultimately unsatisfied. Obtusely, Vincent asks if she already came. His portly frame continues to awkwardly thrust into her before finishing. Vincent’s not just a passionless, condescending rube; he’s also a lousy lay.
The film proceeds to find Isabelle struggle for those glimpses of passion and real connection, though each encounter is less fruitful than the last. A date with a stage actor results in a terribly dissatisfying exchange of words, where wanton desire is stripped of its sensual insinuation. From the pompous to the neurotic to the dull, Denis positions Isabelle as having to endure a rotating door of ineffectual males. It’s not necessarily an indictment against them, as Denis tellingly suggests that Isabelle’s flightiness and neurosis feed into her dissatisfaction with even eligible bachelors. But what Sunshine imparts is the wisdom of realizing that internal emptiness will not necessarily be filled by companionship. Nor does solitude prohibit her from being a complete human being. The moments that Denis and Binoche build together suggest that perhaps our fate isn’t sealed to one another, but rather it's finding solace and happiness within oneself. Tellingly, Sunshine concludes with a sprawling credit sequence over a fortune-teller (a cameo appearance by Gérard Depardieu) that suggests escaping one’s cyclical dependence on companionship may be harder than we thought. Even at her lightest, Denis reveals some cold, clinical capital T Truths.