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They say that losing a child is the greatest misfortune to befall anyone — at the beginning of “Il ya longtemps que je t’aime” that misfortune is already the defining element of Juliette’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) life. The camera zooms in on her profile, the skin dry and wan, inhaling a cigarette. Juliette is just out of prison, having served 15 years for murdering her 6-year-old son. She waits in an airport cafe to get picked up by her much younger sister, Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), who has invited Juliette to spend the first few weeks of readjustment in her home in Nancy. Juliette’s face is a complete blank; she’s emotionless over seeing Lea again, indifferent to the Lorraine countryside, politely uninterested in Lea’s husband, Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), or their two adopted children from Vietnam.

“Il y a longtemps” (international title: “I’ve Loved You So Long”) is the astounding debut feature by French novelist Philippe Claudel — though, as we don’t know whether he intends to continue filmmaking, “debut” is perhaps the wrong term. In any case, Claudel literally sneaked up on the French viewing public — his long and successful writing career had French literary critics comparing his work with Haruki Murakami, but they hadn’t been prepared for a screen adaptation of his one of his own works.

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