Review: Let the Sunshine In

A middle-aged woman relentlessly looking for true love

by Rita Zhang on April 7, 2018

Claire Denis’s 2017 film Let the Sunshine In follows Isabelle, a middle-aged woman relentlessly looking for true love. Bestowed soul and spirit by Juliette Binoche’s minimalist performance, Isabelle encounters a series of invariably disappointing romantic ventures. Despite every man’s lack of commitment to her, her idealism in finding true love remains intact.

As a divorcée who shares child custody with her husband, Isabelle has many reasons to lament the loss of her youth and forego the tender dream of romance. However, the audience begins to see that Isabelle’s fanciful thoughts are not entirely detached from reality. Her undeniably attractive physical traits are enhanced by a natural air of sexiness and a mature femininity. Our fixated attentions towards her irresistible beauty are only confirmed by many male characters’ desiring stares.

Claire Denis is certainly masterful in making us fall for a flawed woman, whose journey in finding true love is met with many challenges. Isabelle’s way of talking makes her inner desires especially difficult to materialize into rational expressions. Her wordy habit drags on to such an extent that at times, her speech explodes with emotional vehemence that suddenly puts her at odds with her social surroundings. Yet somehow, Isabelle still manages to be adorably childish at the same time.

At one point, a minor character named Marc (played by Denis’s long-time collaborator Alex Descas, who appears briefly in two scenes as a friend of Isabelle’s colleague) is seen walking hand-in-hand with Isabelle. The setting of the Paris streets lit at night evokes a romantic cliché that becomes instantly comical, given that there is no pretext of the two characters’ mutual attraction before this particular scene. However, it is exactly the narrative’s jaunty rhythm, which recalls the humorous absurdity of a 1940s screwball comedy, that surprises the audience and causes them to laugh suddenly in relief.

Of course, unlike a screwball comedy, Isabelle has yet to find a soulmate, one who can provide the narrative closure of either eternal merriment or at least the promise of a romantic future. As the film keeps unfolding, we get the sense that perhaps all Isabelle needs is a lucky break. She is beautiful, strong, romantic, and most importantly, lovable. With the comic twist at the film’s ending, when Isabelle converses with a fortune teller portrayed by Gérard Depardieu, Isabelle’s future remains an uncertainty. Despite her forthright curiosity about her own future, Isabelle is met with ambiguous speech; “be open” and “let the sun shine in” are the two life mantras that the fortune teller shares with her. These two phrases could suggest to Isabelle that she needs to be open to unexpected male types in her romantic life (including perhaps a man with a “meatier” build that matches the medium’s body type). Or they may merely be candid expressions that signify nothing beyond their obvious contents. Isabelle’s ignorance of the fortune teller’s suggestive romantic interests only further confirms her oblivion in the present and her fervent anticipation of a romantic happiness in the future.

There is no sign for us to confirm a forthcoming true love for Isabelle. Instead, what we see on-screen is an ongoing game of attraction between the opposite sexes. Such a lively spark sustains a feel-good energy that viewers may hope to carry outside the cinema. We will never know how long it takes Isabelle to come to her senses, or when she will find the man she deserves. But one thing is for certain: she will keep searching and never give up on being her ideal self.