In Juliette Binoche’s company


Hollywood’s never held sway with French actor, Juliette Binoche. Instead, her 35-year career and 60-odd films have been about great directors and daring themes

After taking two questions, Juliette Binoche turns to the press management team to ensure some silence. She is seated in a corner of the large room, on a yellow chair, being interviewed by a few members of the press, while the others wait at a distance. “Do you mind asking the people behind not to speak because I can hear them. I have a very strong ear,” she makes light of getting distracted by the noise. But you can sense that Binoche, 55, likes to stay on top of things; she owns the space she walks into.

The day before, in a matter of minutes, the French actor had turned around the stage arrangement for her Masterclass at the International Film Festival and Awards Macao (IFFAM), with the audience looking on in wide-eyed wonderment, as though it was yet another of her bravura performances. The interaction with IFFAM artistic director, Mike Goodridge, and award-winning Chinese director, Diao Yinan, of The Wild Goose Lake fame, found her at her witty best; unusually candid and unconsciously philosophical when talking about life and acting.

It would be cheesy to say that beauty and Binoche are synonymous. But facts can’t be contested. The star aura envelops her naturally, even clad in a black-striped suit. And the most hard-nosed journalists are putty in her hands.

In Juliette Binoche’s company

A global take

There’s a sense of purpose in the choosing of the 60-odd films dotting an almost 35-year film career, not to speak of the lesser-celebrated theatre and dance gigs. It is a process that started at the beginning, when Binoche, who was working as a cashier in a department store, got a small role in Jean-Luc Godard’s Je vous salue, Marie (Hail Mary). The head of the store wanted her to stay on, but she chose not to. She remembers living in a hotel with the film team for two-three months during which Godard would shoot when he wanted to, and often not. “It made me understand that making a scene has to come from a deep, personal space. It is not [coming] from some machine,” she says.

André Téchiné’s Rendez-vous was her breakthrough leading role. Binoche looks back at it as a tough experience with rough scenes. “There were difficult scenes (often with sex and nudity), but Téchiné was also protective,” she recalls. Then she turned to England and an international audience with Philip Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but declined when Hollywood beckoned. As she herself put it, she didn’t nurse a Hollywood dream, but had a thirst for global knowledge. She said no to Steven Spielberg for Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue, which eventually proved to be one of her finest and most affecting performances ever. She recalls how different he was to work with (than French filmmakers). There were no multiple takes; he’d rehearse and then shoot just once to save on the expensive film.

In Juliette Binoche’s company

“Every director, every film is different. I don’t prepare the same way. Working with the same director also doesn’t feel like a repeat… The subject, emotions, place, involvement may all be different,” she says. So, she willingly worked for two-and-a-half years on Leos Carax’s Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (The Lovers on the Bridge) for which he expected her to live like a homeless person, often in potentially dangerous spaces. “That was my commitment to the film,” she says.

Directors’ cut

Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient (which won her an Oscar) and Lasse Hallström’s Chocolat kept her in the international spotlight. She became the first to win best actress at Berlin, Cannes, as well as Venice. Over the years, Binoche has remained committed to French cinema, both commercial and arthouse, but has also worked with a range of auteurs from international cinema — Asia specifically: Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy), Naomi Kawase (Vision), Hou Hsiao-hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), and now the Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda, who’s helmed her latest outing, The Truth. It was the opening film at the Venice Film Festival this year. It has been travelling the world since then, with Binoche often providing it company, as she recently did in Macao.

Kore-eda’s first film set outside of Japan — and in French at that — sees her teaming up with another diva, Catherine Deneuve. Binoche had known Kore-eda for 12 years and kept waiting for a project to materialise. Things came to a head when they spent some time together in Kyoto. “It was a big jump for him,” she says, of filming in an alien country, language and culture. “You are always trying to renew yourself in a film. The risk of going to another country is a way of renewing yourself, the world you’re discovering.” What stood out about the director was that he was not ‘directive’. “He let us do what we wanted,” she says, recounting how she brought in the element of drama and conflict in her interpretation of the central relationship.

In Juliette Binoche’s company

New adventures

Working in a “global” film environment comes with an innate sense of curiosity for learning, travelling (inside and outside), and working with a range of artistes. “I’ve felt close to the people who’ve come from very different worlds,” she says. It is like a new adventure. “You renew yourself, and [learn] from new encounters with different traditions. So, as an actor, I want to go on a journey that I don’t know yet,” she says. The interest in Asian cinema can specifically be traced back to a Chinese boyfriend from the past. “It’s a good way to know the world,” she laughs, jokingly expanding on the benefits of having boyfriends around the world.

For her, the give-and-take between the actor and the director is like a dance. It is also about silence. “You are working with the soul, so you are discovering the person while you are going through it,” she says. How has it been different with Asian filmmakers? With Kawase, nature was very important. “With Hsiao-hsien, it was like entering a new world. Not having a script and dialogue, just improvising and working through long sequences. But he allowed me to be part of the preparation in a way that I’ve never been involved. He asked me to bring things from my home and make the set my own. Carpets, curtains, suitcases. When you prepare so much, the first take becomes something else. He gives space for another kind of layer,” she says.

Asian cinema is also about censorship, something she hasn’t faced in France. “I want to be free and I will be free. As actors, you have boundaries. You have to find your way to free yourself. There’re always ways to express even though it is hard. Kiarostami learnt to be himself within boundaries,” she says.

In Juliette Binoche’s company

In the works

In the Masterclass, Binoche had promised to work with Yinan. I ask whether, despite having worked with a range of filmmakers, there are any on her wish list still? “I try not to think too much. What you need to do is to recognise [what] you are here for, then life does it for you. Projects will happen. You have to just send the right thoughts. And, meanwhile, work, because nothing comes without work.”

There’s a project with Alain Delon that’s been put aside because of his ill health. Coming up, are two French films: Emmanuel Carrère’s Between Two Worlds, on cleaning women and job insecurity, and Martin Provost’s The Good Spouse, about a late-60s institution that trained young girls to become good wives. “They learn to cook, sew, be good in bed, and cater to all the needs of men till it all explodes one day,” says Binoche.

The zest for cinema continues. “I don’t think I can ever say I’ve arrived,” she says. What she loves about acting and cinema is that it is never the same. “There’s always the next move, the next transformation.” And that’s what she believes in living for.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Related Topics Movies
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 1:58:12 AM |

Next Story