Juliette Binoche: interview
The great French actress, Juliette Binoche, has come to London to work with ace choreographer Akram Khan while the two-month Binoche season and exhibition gets under way at the BFI Southbank. She discusses film and painting with Dave Calhoun
Anyone at this week’s Venice film festival drawn to Abbas Kiarostami’s new film solely by the presence of Juliette Binoche’s name on the credits – and not by this bold Iranian filmmaker’s reputation – may be bemused by what they see, especially if they only know this French actress from her more mainstream work, such as Anthony Minghella’s ‘The English Patient’ or Lasse Hallstrom’s ‘Chocolat’.
Binoche appears in Kiarostami’s experimental ‘Shirin’ – but only for a minute. She’s one of many women’s faces we watch for a full 90 minutes as they sit in a cinema viewing an epic film about a tragic, female Armenian folk hero. We never see the film they watch; we only hear its dialogue and observe the women’s tearful reactions.
‘Yes, it took me about 15 minutes to film,’ Binoche laughs. ‘Abbas was making the film in his basement, I went along to help. Next year, I’m going to make another film with him, a full film that we’re going to shoot in Italy.’
Her new film with Kiarostami may sound strange for an actress who can command leading roles in France, but it’s typical of Binoche, who has a habit of seeking out filmmakers from across globe – improvising for Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s ‘Flight of the Red Balloon’, as the grieving sibling in Olivier Assayas’s ‘Summer Hours’ or playing the love interest to Steve Carell in Peter Hedges’ comedy ‘Dan in Real Life’.
In France, her image is hardly ever off screens. Now it’s the turn of Londoners to find Binoche hard to avoid. From next week, she will be appearing at the National Theatre in a dance performance piece, ‘in-i’, that she and the British dancer Akram Khan have been devising for much of this past year. At the same time, across the road from the National, the BFI Southbank will be celebrating Binoche with a six-week retrospective of her work with such varied filmmakers as Leos Carax, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Michael Haneke. And that’s not all. Visitors to the BFI will also find an exhibition of Binoche’s paintings in the venue’s gallery.
That’s Juliette Binoche: actress, dancer, painter. Although the word she would most probably choose to describe herself is 'collaborator'. ‘I’m nobody’s puppet,’ she tells me, before accepting that if there’s one director she might just – just – be willing to submit to once in a while, it’s to Haneke, the Austrian filmmaker with whom she made ‘Code Unknown’ and ‘Hidden’. ‘He’s the exception, I’ll go on his road because it’s very specific and he’s like a very precise painter, almost maniac in his way of working.’ More and more, though, she wants to work as close as possible with filmmakers, ‘to be involved in the planning, the whole process.’
Right now, her talk is of her latest collaboration: the dance piece that she has devised from scratch with Khan. We meet on the South Bank, where she’s in the final stages of rehearsals. How did this venture come about? ‘When I was making “Breaking and Entering” in London, I had a masseuse, Su-Man, who asked me if I wanted to dance,’ she explains. It turns out that Su-Man is married to Khan’s producer. ‘I said yes, and I was invited to “Zero Degree”, a piece that Akram was performing, and at the end Su-Man asked me if I wanted to go in a studio for three days with Akram.’
At 44, she had never danced in her life. She admits that rehearsals have involved a lot of pain. ‘I think it’s going to help me deal with death, actually,’ she says, before laughing at the very thought. It’s been intense. ‘It’s been like having to climb mountains.’
We talk a little about the retrospective, which she considers ‘like an exhibition of paintings, you know? It’s a way to revisit and to make links.’ In her mind, she’s close to all her films, right back to her first proper role in Godard’s ‘Je vous salue, Marie’ in 1985. I ask which were the pivotal ones. To Godard, she credits becoming ‘aware that the director is not your father, that he’s not going to save your life.’ To André Techiné and ‘Rendez-vous’, her first lead role, also in 1985, she attributes her first experience of having ‘the whole film on my shoulders somehow’.
Working with Kieslowski on the ‘Three Colours’ trilogy was ‘so easy, we’d shoot so quickly, it was a joy’, and through Leos Carax she ‘discovered movies; I knew about theatre but not much about movies.’ Finally, she says working with Minghella was ‘like telepathy’.
Binoche will also be exhibiting seven paintings of the directors with whom she’s worked, commissioned by the editor of the magazine Cahiers du Cinema. ‘He asked me to do it, but I was shooting five films and had no time. I would have had to spend all my weekends doing these portraits, and in the end, that’s exactly what happened.’
Will she continue to paint directors? Has it become a habit, I wonder? ‘I try not to have too many habits!’ she says, breaking out into a huge rolling laugh.
Read what Akram Khan told Time Out about working on 'in-i' with Juliette Binoche.
‘in-i’ previews at the National Theatre from Sept 6; The Binoche season and exhibition runs at the BFI Southbank throughout Sept and Oct.
Author: Dave Calhoun
Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.
The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards
Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow
Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.
The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.
Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'
'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.
Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.
The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'
The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.
Read our interview with Michael Haneke
The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.
Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'
Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.
Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us
Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.
Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set
The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.
Read our interview with Tim burton
Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.
Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'
Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.
Read 'Film guilty pleasures'
What will Disney do to 'Star Wars'?
Read about the new 'Star Wars' trilogy
Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.
Read 'When teen stars turn serious'
From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.
Read '50 years of James Bond'
The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.
Read the interview
Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.
Read 'Hilarious horror films'
The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.
Read the interview
We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.
Read about this Autumn's best horror movies
Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.
Read 'On the set of Skyfall'
Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?
The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.
'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’