AFI Fest 2017: Bright Sunshine In, by Scott Nye
I nearly missed Claire Denis’s Bright Sunshine In at AFI Fest altogether, but even rushing to make a midday screening and arriving the moment the all-too-familiar Sundance Selects logo came bursting onscreen did not diminish the hypnotic pull it enacted almost immediately. I suppose those who know how it starts – with Juliette Binoche lying naked in bed, soon to be pounced upon by her lover for a round of vigorous sex – might think that previous sentence prurient. Even aside from Binoche’s considerable beauty, one could do a whole lot worse for an opening frame than her gaze. But Binoche and Denis are quick to break this spell with something more humorous than sexy. “Cum!” she demands of the massive thruster after a few moments too many. Looking back on it now, this moment cleverly suggests how complicated the tone and emotion of the film will be, how indicative it is of the difficulty of adult relationships.
The hulking presence atop Isabelle (Binoche) is Fabrice, a married banker (Bruno Podalydès). He spends their time together deploring his colleagues’ uncultured ways and praising her artistic charm. Not that he’ll ever leave his wife, naturally. She’s too good a woman, after all. But he likes their arrangement, and it pleases him for her to like it too, so she does as long as she can. Then he enters her apartment one day announcing “I’ve just come back from Brazil and felt like banging you,” and, well, that really clarifies things. Anyway, there’s an actor who’s caught her eye of late. He’s more emotionally open. But maybe too much?
Before long, you really start to wonder how anyone gets along ever, how the multitude of options – duplicated exponentially with the proliferation of dating sites and apps – prevents people from feeling the need to ever settle down, how two people can see the same event very differently, and how even the slightest wrong word can set off a chain reaction ending an entire potential road. What can one do, though? Not fall in love? Even if you tell yourself it’s not the right time, you can’t control who you meet. And Isabelle meets an awful lot of people.
Many are quite manipulative. A conversation that begins on the assumption of a collaborative artistic project turns quickly to sex. And sure, it’s flattering, but also diminishing? Or does that part even matter anymore? Then there’s the one who seems wildly passionate about her, but demands they take it slow. Adult dating is all caught up in self-protection, which usually just means not doing the thing you did last time that didn’t work out so well. Or taking too seriously a friend’s advice. The wrong move then could be the right move now. And gradually – I won’t say “slowly”; this is a rather short, captivating film – Denis (along with co-writer Christine Angot) build a web so knotty it cannot be untangled, mirroring Isabelle’s inner and outer life, stacked with competing desires, opportunities, and reactions.
There are few actresses better suited to pulling off this challenge that Binoche, whose earnestness is paramount to convincing us of each love affair. They all matter. None are just a passing fancy. Then they’ll do something, or say something, or she’ll say something a way she didn’t mean to, and get that slight look of worry in her eye that it’s all happening again. Isabelle has built up her own protective layers, a certain way of averting her gaze or throwing up her arms or just walking around that she uses to divest herself of a situation before the situation can divest her.
Oh, jeez, and Agnès Godard’s cinematography – a wonder. She does these very fluid long takes that create different rhythms than we usually see in two-person scenes, of which this film is almost entirely comprised. It’s heavenly.
I’m absolutely crazy about this film, but I’ll have to stop here. This is all I can intellectualize about it after one rushed viewing. I can’t wait for its release next spring.