What probably surprised viewers about I've Loved You So Long was that it featured British actress Kristin Scott Thomas in a French-speaking role -- giving an award-worthy performance, at that. But French doesn't happen to be a particular hardship for the actress, a resident of France since her early twenties. More impressive is what she does with the role of a woman just finishing 15 years in prison for committing murder, whose victim should preclude her from any normal notion of audience sympathy. Granted, Juliette Fontaine has a more complicated story than the shocking black-and-white charges against her would suggest. But what's smart about Scott Thomas' performance is that she doesn't make a conscious play for the sympathy she'd be shown if the viewer knew the totality of her circumstances. She conveys oceans of ennui in a distracted glance, a terse/awkward verbal exchange, or a longing stare straight through the people around her, all without ever resorting to self-pity. Shrewdly, the script by director Philippe Claudel keeps the viewer in the dark about exactly what Juliette did, thereby rendering her crime morally irrelevant. The viewer has no choice but to meet her on the terms of her current existence, regardless of what she did in the past. In fact, it's to the film's slight detriment when all is revealed near the end, and her actions make more conventional sense. Scott Thomas' performance is buttressed by those of the actors around her, who grapple in different ways with their own compromises and losses, bringing marvelous complexity to their attitudes toward this problematic woman. The possibility of forgiveness is questioned throughout, and eventually, so is the need for it in the first place. If morality is all shades of gray in I've Loved You So Long, the film's quality is crystal clear.