Female Desire: Un Beau Soleil Intérieur
I read in an article somewhere a writer had called Claire Denis a "mood" and even though I've barely scraped the surface in viewing her films, I can sense there is truth in that statement. Of course what were the odds the two films I’ve viewed recently, both Vendredi Soir (FRIDAY NIGHT) and Un Beau Soleil Intérieur (LET THE SUNSHINE IN), both tango heavily with the subject of female desire? It’s a tantalizing subject for any filmmaker to tackle and what also tends to lack so horribly in Hollywood films today. I just oh and ah at contrasting the parallels between the fantasy of Hollywood and the pragmatism of French filmmaking, especially when it comes to the perspective of a woman. French filmmakers get how to express the mood, Hollywood on the other hand, well there's room for improvement. C'est la vie!
Un Beau Soleil Intérieur aka English translation, LET THE SUNSHINE IN is a somber frustration mostly because we’re watching a middle aged, divorced artist, named Isabelle played by the sublime Juliette Binoche, who seems to be in this weird limbo, struggling to maintain an authentic love life. She’s deeply involved with a married banker named Vincent played by Xavier Beauvois, who’s 50 different shades of erroneous arrogance. You learn this in the first few minutes in the opening of the film, which begins as a very claustrophobic nearly nauseating sex scene. The medium close up shots of two bodies going at it and the way Vincent thrusts himself against her, shows you how covetous he is for control while Isabelle passively just runs through the motions. Nonetheless, she ends up in tears afterwards while he half-asses in consoling her. A depressing sex scene as the foundation to opening of the film, feels bleak, unsettling as the nonexistence of love between these two characters is vacant. This romance drama/comedy is a tragedy, but don’t worry there’s more to appreciate in a woman's struggle to become satisfied. As comedian Whitney Cummings has said, " Being female is really frustrating."
Isabelle is precarious which is the key to her complexity teetering between being open and protective. God that's exhausting. But you see this in the scene where she confronts Vincent for standing her up over the weekend. She lashes out at him, but he seems to think its cute or sexy because she's in a leather jacket and stilettos ignoring her body movement. What she does is sits on the couch one minute and then moves across the living room to sit on a chair and then back to another chair. This movement illustrates in ways frustration, confusion, and restlessness. Its like musical chairs but with no magically gratifying outcome. Perhaps, it just illustrates the tricky balance of when you become close to someone while trying to harness an invisible shield of "perfection" which often times fails because that layer of guard is the key to unleashing vulnerability in order for connection to transpire. Sounds a bit like a Brene Brown quote, I know but there’s truth in unmasking ourselves. Dig deeper. Always dig deeper. Authenticity and being open require integrity which isn't easy, but certainly a symptom to the problem in Isabelle's case. She is open in a very beautiful way and I feel like that's the prime reason her relationships fail. The men she chooses are playing it safe, keeping their rules in check not swaying to the edge so to metaphorically speak and half of them are either married or divorced, so they struggle so its naturally they struggle be open to love. Their heads and hearts aren't necessarily susceptible to what was once promising to them not realizing that takes time to condition further.
And yet, so much loneliness plagues the screen as Isabelle frustratingly leaves the banker, dates an actor, then a fellow colleague who owns a gallery, and finally a loner guy name Sylvain, who really doesn’t even get a chance. There’s really no plot here, and it can be trying for some who need resolution which I find challengingly ironic to believe in love being a resolution. We see this trend in contemporary films where the struggle is finding the love and once its found the story ends. Wouldn’t it be much more interesting watching a movie where two people struggle to maintain that love?
When kicking the rocks of being let down by men, Isabelle at one point says, “That’s my problem no one ever knows what I think.” Which makes me question is it because men don’t actually see her and if they do, do they really want her? Is she too much? Does she intimidate them to the point where they have to cower back and say all these things meant has barriers for a relationship to thrive forward and this is where it fills her with self doubt. Saying one thing yes but acting on it completely separate. Obviously, Isabelle is a stunningly beautiful woman who knows how to use sensuality yet struggles in keeping a man who values her beyond the carnal norms. It’s the biggest equation that has no answer and in viewing this many women will identify with that to the point of either passive or aggressive frustration. But you may also appreciate, Binoche's astonishing performance carrying the weight of frustration and utilizing her emotions in a very understanding way. You can go from tears to laughter or vice versa in an instant and perhaps that's part of the process in finding a sense of peace in the desire for love. This is prominently illustrated in the bathroom scene where she's talking with a girlfriend about not being ok. Her glowing smile diminishes into tears because she's endured, flustered and just wants something to work which essentially sets off a series of other emotional outbursts throughout the film which is probably where the comedy comes in. Whether she's screaming out in nature at the trees or dancing by herself in a club it's beautiful to watch and feel that sense of frustration and isolation tangoing together.
I think majority of the angst that swells within Isabelle is one she’s full of contradictions herself, which tends to be most women, and again she attracts either married or divorced men, essentially presenting herself as the transitional woman. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with dating this type guy, which often comes with navigating a terrain of heavy baggage, just know you have to protect and check in with yourself. You can help them steer the murky waters ahead but don’t drown yourself in being used by them which is actually stated at the end when she seeks guidance from a man psychic. Which is also kinda humorous as she's seeking advice the credits roll. That was an interesting choice on the director's part.
In some regard, I feel like this is what sets Isabelle apart in being hyper aware of her contradictions because she's an artist. And what do artists do? She's honest with herself and blunt in speaking her truth swaying into the uncharted territory of being open because art in itself is a vulnerable thing. Expressing your soul in a painting or words, or dance or song, its enticing and attractive for others. In someways it takes a particular mindset to date an artist. Like a moth drawn to the flame.
Much of the milieu in LET THE SUNSHINE IN is painted in the setting of a Parisian city where it’s cold and wet, and the sadness of jazz plays in the background really evokes the loneliness in people. As much as the film is about finding love, I feel it’s enduring that isolation while being open to other people. Nonetheless, female desire becomes this titillating lure of mystery even to Isabelle herself. She knows she wants love and the many times she becomes involved with a man, something is always inevitably off. Whether, it’s someone already married, there’s a lack of trust, zero openness, or she’s filled to the brim in anxiety which induces one relationship to complete decimation. Yes, any intense anxiety can kill a relationship, but it doesn’t have to necessarily be that way. Women want things that men don’t always comprehend and men want things that women don’t always comprehend. It’ll always be a double edge sword in some sense, whether it be clear yet most often obscured with ambiguity.