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Soundtracking: Hustlers

"YES, this soundtrack was soooo good!!! The Fiona Apple 'Criminal' dance, instantly iconic." - JWB

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Directors of For Sama

Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
Ritesh Batra (Photograph)
Schmidt & Abrantes (Diamantino)
Wanuri Kahiu (Rafiki)
Jia Zhang-ke (Ash is Purest White)

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Soundtracking: "Let The Sunshine In"

by Chris Feil

Etta James’ “At Last” has to be one of the most cliched romantic song choices in the movies, diminished over the decades through overuse and reductiveness, its swooning sexual pull often taken for granted or sanitized in gauzed lensing. But leave it to an original like Claire Denis to capture the oft-revisited song with new ears.

With Let the Sunshine In, Denis delivers us her take on a romantic drama, with all of the structural turns outside of genre convention as she approached vampire films and science fiction alike. Instead of the kind of romcom story developments we expect to see in our stories of women struggling to find love, this film is turns that into a more expansive character study with Juliette Binoche as our protagonist Isabelle. It is essentially examining the desire to be in love as a state of being.

Naturally, “At Last” lends itself to the kind of passion that Isabelle is searching, the stuff that we’ve been promised by dozens of movies and popular culture that Denis is unpacking here. Its been used ad nauseum in period dramas, romances, and commercials alike until its power has been lost, borrowing on copies of copies to convey an instantly recognizable feeling. How many weddings have you been to where it played, projected as some kind of wide-eyed fairy tale?

And of course the song has heartily earned its stature. Songs such as this, that capture the exhale of finding love and all of its sensual ecstasies, are once in a life time. We hang on every vocal swing Etta James sinks into, enrapturing us with the feeling of being desired and satisfied. This song was clearly never meant to be as boring as it is being used.

“At Last” comes at the film’s midpoint, one Denis cleverly (and not cruelly) diverts us into thinking it could also be a pivot point. By now, we have seen Isabelle through multiple heartbreaks after giving her all through depression and a categorical attraction to bullshit men not worth her time. No mere man could ever truly deserve Juliette Binoche, to be fair. Sad-drunk, she takes to the dance floor of a bar flooded with dancing couples as Etta James comes over the speaker. For a moment she sways alone, the tears too exhausted to fall far from her eyes.

Suddenly, a man approaches behind her in time to the music. If we briefly think that she might just maybe realize that self-love could be her great romance, here comes a seemingly melancholy soul to equal hers just as James sings him into existence. As Isabelle has been promised, as she has longed for. Until now, the film has been scored with sparse strained jazz, making the song’s lushness a true oasis of romantic and sexual clarity in the center of its emotional confusion.

Isabelle comes alive and so does the song’s cinematic potential. But Denis is also subverting the cliche here just as she flawlessly activates it, its oft-repeated fairy tale interpretation reflected by a relationship almost immediately shown as not meant to be. Isabelle still waits for the “At Last” of “At Last”.

Let the Sunshine In is now streaming on Hulu. All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (5)


November 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

If Marion Cotillard made a Two Days, One Night every other year, she'd have Juliette Binoche's current career.

November 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

Wonderful film with a major Juliette Binoche performance. (I’d say her best since CERTIFIED COPY). So happy Criterion is releasing it.

November 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

Between Certified Copy and this, Binoche delivered her best performance ever in Camille Claudel 1915. But she's always awesome.

November 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I thought her performances in both Camille Claudel 1915 and Clouds of Sils Maria were for the ages

November 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

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