Talent That Doesn't Spoil: Kristin Scott Thomas Is Austere, While Ed Harris Pulls out All the Stops

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I've Loved You So Long (12A)

dir: Philippe Claudel

Appaloosa (15)

dir: Ed Harris

The "spoiler", that morsel of information that can remove in one stroke a film's element of surprise, takes many forms. Voters at the Academy Awards did a nice job of ruining The Crying Game for anyone who hadn't seen it (and stop reading now if that means you) by nominating Jaye Davidson as best supporting actor, thus revealing a twist that nobody-except, one trusts, Jaye Davidson's mum-had seen coming.

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Then there was the TV listings page that (spoiler alert!) described Citizen Kane as the story of a man and his sledge. And don't forget the protesters who vented their disgust at Basic Instinct by disclosing the identity of the film's killer to patrons queuing at the box-office. A well-meaning effort, if a redundant one, since most people didn't care whodunit as long as they could witness Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs. Much better if the protesters had simply rustled up some placards that said: "You can't see anything, anyway."

I've Loved You So Long, a French tale of two sisters, and Appaloosa, a nuts-and-bolts Western, both have kinks or surprises, but the manner in which they are presented differs greatly. At the screening I attended of the former, we were asked not to reveal what its secret might be, presumably on pain of receiving a withering look from Kristin Scott Thomas, the film's star. She plays Juliette, who comes to stay in Nancy with her kid sister, Lea (Elsa Zylberstein), whom she hasn't seen for 15 years. With ash-grey skin and a cigarette trembling between her bony fingers, Juliette is a picture of austerity, while Lea relishes the chaotic household she shares with her husband, their adopted daughters, his mute father, and a cleaner whose habit of breaking everything has earned her the nickname "Katrina", after the hurricane.

So where has Juliette been all these years? Hiding out in the witness protection programme? Training as a go-go dancer at the Ticklish Banana club? Or hosting a show on the QVC shopping channel, thereby combining the obscurity of the former with the unbridled glamour of the latter?

I'm keeping schtum, except to say that the terrible secret on which the story pivots transpires to be not quite so terrible after all, leaving us feeling relieved but rather used and grubby-a not entirely unpleasant sensation, perhaps, for regulars at the Ticklish Banana, but deeply unsatisfying when you're watching a film that purports to be a thoughtful character study. …