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22nd AFI Fest: Interview with Elsa Zylberstein (I’ve Loved You So Long)

Unless you are a connoisseur of French cinema or very familiar with the filmography of Raoul Ruiz, for many of you there are good chances that the name and face of Elsa Zylberstein hardly rings a bell…


Unless you are a connoisseur of French cinema or very familiar with the filmography of Raoul Ruiz, for many of you there are good chances that the name and face of Elsa Zylberstein hardly rings a bell – but this may change this year if the buzz continues to build from art-house circuit success and critical approval into potential year-end kudos for film that won a pair of prizes at the Berlin film festival.

In author-turned-director Philippe Claudel’s “Il y a longtemps que je t’aime” a.k.a I’ve Loved You So Long, Zylberstein plays the younger sister role of Léa who is reunited with her older sis Juliette (Kristin Scott-Thomas), who after 15 years in prison returns to her hometown of Nancy.

A couple of weeks back I had the chance to interview the filmmaker and now I had a sit down with one of his two muses. Here is my interview with…

Elsa Zylberstein

I've Loved You So Long Elsa Zylberstein Interview

Yama Rahimi: Philippe (Claudel) told me he wrote this part for you. Were you part of the process? How did you find out about this project? Was it a surprise?
Elsa Zylberstein: It wasn’t a surprise because we had a coffee and I told him why don’t you write a story about two women. He called five months later and said “Hey Elsa, I did it.” Then I got the script and it was wonderful.

YR: Were you involved in the process?
EZ: No he did his thing and it was amazing for an actor that somebody would say I wouldn’t do this without this actor.

YR: It’s remarkable for a writer because I recently interviewed several writers and they all said they never write for any particular actors.
EZ:  He’s a great man, very clever and special human being.

I've Loved You So Long Elsa Zylberstein Interview

YR: So you know him privately?
EZ: Yes we met three years ago and I just loved his writing after reading couple of his books. I was stunned by the depth and humanity. The layers and characters are lead by emotion and ambiguity between bad and evil. It’s very interesting.

YR: What was the biggest challenge for this role since everything is underneath?
EZ:  It was difficult to create this loss that I and Kristin had this loss and guilt after such a long time. We had to make the relationship real with the whole back story.

I've Loved You So Long Elsa Zylberstein Interview

YR: Did you work with Kristin closely?
EZ: No. I worked with Philippe and she worked with him. I worked by myself and we saw each other once. Philippe didn’t want us to meet. For me those two characters are in jail, one physically and the other psychologically. My character was very subtle because she pretends to be happy but is actually fragile like a little girl.

YR: I think your role was very hard to research because it’s all internal.
EZ: It was a very hard character to create. Before her sister returns, she trusts and believes in books and they help her by giving strength and support because she a professor of literature. You see that books surround her in her house but when Kristin’s character comes she loses her faith in them as she tells one of her students, “What do you know about life? Life is stronger. Fuck books. Go and live.” She suddenly feels alive. She says “What do you know about murder? What did Dostoevsky know about murderers?”

YR: You are a veteran actress in French Cinema. How was your experience with Philippe as a first time director?
EZ: I trusted him. When you accept a film, you have to trust the director. I knew it would be clever that’s all I knew.

YR: He’s very assured as a director and knows what he wants without any insecurity.
EZ: Oh yes. He wrote a book about making the film and you see everything is on purpose.

YR: How was working with Kristin Scott Thomas who’s not French but a Hollywood star.
EZ: She speaks French perfectly and very committed, so it was like two actors working normally. No difference beyond that.

YR: Are you surprised by the success of the film?
EZ: I’m so thrilled. You can’t imagine. It sold 1 million tickets in France. It’s continuing now beyond France because it’s a universal story. It could be two brothers instead of sisters.

Sony Pictures Classics released I’ve Loved You So Long on the 24th of October.

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You may also like...'s award guru Yama Rahimi is a San Francisco-based Afghan-American artist and filmmaker. Apart from being a contributing special feature writer for the site, he directed the short films Object of Affection ('03), Chori Foroosh ('06) and the feature length documentary film Afghanistan ('10). His top three of 2019 include: Bong Joon-ho's Parasite, Todd Phillips' Joker and Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse.

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