Let The Sunshine In is an unapologetic meditation on the philosophy of love; the kind of film that French filmmakers seem to be able to do in their sleep. Inspired by rather than adapted from Roland Barthes’ influential A Lover’s Discourse, the free-floating plot tracks the messy love life of Isabelle, an attractive, single artist in her forties, played with an effortless blend of intelligence and sensuality by Juliette Binoche. As is often the case in real life, Isabelle seems so much better than the men in her romantic orbit. Yet her passion, idealism and loneliness yield to the gravitational pull of a group of suitors that run the gamut from harmless fantasists to indecisive or emotionally disconnected jerks. The most egregious offender is Vincent, who bears a strong resemblance to a recently disgraced studio head. When Isabelle eventually tunes this narcissistic banker with artistic pretensions out, most members of the audience will cheer.
What the men in this film do offer is that they act as sounding boards for Isabelle to articulate and define what she wants from love and sex. Isabelle may make some impulsive choices, but she is no doormat and she calls out the cant and pretense of not just the smooth talk of her lovers, but her own contradictory motivations. During a weekend at a provincial arts festival, Isabelle seemingly meets her ideal – a confident silent type who knows his way around the dance floor. Yet he turns out to have his issues and Isabelle eventually turns for advice to a New Age life coach portrayed in a coda with sly wit by Gerard Depardieu.
While Let The Sunshine In does not have the masterly beauty and assurance of Beau Travail or the eerie tension of White Material, it is worth seeing for Binoche’s multi-layered performance. Deftly shifting from sadness and anger to joy and flirtatousness, this is as much as her film as it is Denis’. You may wonder at times how people can be both smart and stupid when it comes to relationships, but this actor/director collaboration is more than just an intellectual exercise thanks to Binoche.