Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (I've Loved You So Long) (2008) is very French. Along with being in the french language, written and directed by Phillippe Claudel (a frenchman), and set and filmed in France, the film has many of the tiresome cliches that Americans have come to recognize in these kinds of ventures; flat, undynamic cinematography, beige and lifeless color palette, laconic dialogue, and an uncomfortable deficit of exposition. longtemps exhibits all of these, and for its initial half hour or so they combine into a sticky molasses of almost unbearable french bleakness.
The only aspect here that will keep a non-francophile from falling asleep or just giving up is the film's star, English actress Kristin Scott Thomas. How fitting that the most entertaining part of a french film is it's one non-french component. As Juliette, recently released from prison after a 15-year sentence, she is a shell of a woman. Scott Thomas does a brilliant job of suggesting so much about this person with the smallest gesture or expression.
Upon her release, she is reunited with her younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) and goes to live with her and her family, which includes Léa's two young daughters, her husband, and his wacky, mute father. Juliette is standoffish, the kids are precocious, and everyone is French.
Juliette's crime is not immediately revealed, and once it is, the motive for it is left for us to guess at until the final scene. It can be said here, without spoiling things, that this final revelation is handled surprisingly poorly, given the filmmakers' care throughout to craft a detailed and realistic experience. It is especially disappointing because the entire story is built around what Juliette did and why, and whether she was justified.
I did end up almost losing consciousness, but I cannot determine if this was because the film is boring, or because it slowly creates some dreamlike reality parallel to the real world, where former prison inmates live.