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The highlight of my TIFF14 experience is attending the Mavericks Conversation with Juliette Binoche.

Conversations with Juliette Binoche

Director of TIFF Piers Handling structured the conversation in three sections preceded by showing excerpts of Binoche’s filmography in chronological order. Thanks to these visual gems, the audience got the sense of the actor’s wide repertoire. At fifty, Binoche has had more than thirty years of acting experience, and 50 feature films under her belt.

Juggling with my iPhone for photos, a pen and a small notebook, keeping my eyes on the maverick on stage, looking through photographers and audience sticking their hands out into the aisle and midair to take photos, I managed to jot down some sketchy notes.

Juliette Binoche knew she wanted to act at age 15 when her mother brought her to Paris to see a stage play. After she had made up her mind, “I was unstoppable.” She went to drama school in Paris, from the stage she soon landed film roles, and the rest is history.

Binoche had worked with numerous legendary directors who are cinematic icons themselves. Here are some samples:

The first director she worked with was Jean Luc Godard in Hail Mary (1985), later André Téchiné in Rendez-vous (1985), Krzysztof Kieslowski in Three Colours: Blue, White, Red (1993-94), Hou Hsiao-Hsien in Flight of the Red Balloon (2007), Abbas Kiarostami in Certified Copy (2010), Olivier Assayas in Summer Hours (2008), and now Clouds of Sils Maria at TIFF14, just to name a few.

But she has also said no to others. Stephen Spielberg came to her three times to no avail. “I don’t want to be in any system. Hollywood is a system. Not even in French system.”

Director she likes to work with: Michael Haneke (Amour, 2012; The White Ribbon, 2009) Binoche worked with him in Hidden (2005) and Code Unknown (2000).

Juliette Binoche

North American audience might have known some of her more popular works like her Oscar winning The English Patient (1996), or Chocolat (2000), but I was gratified to see clips from her lesser known works like:

The Unbearable Likeness of Being (1988, adaptation of Milan Kundera’s novel, with Daniel Day-Lewis), or Three Colours: Blue (1993, Krzysztof Kieslowski directs, the first of the Trilogy)

But the stage is still very much on her mind. “I love the theatre.” She was in August Strindberg’s Mademoiselle Julie, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, and soon a new production of Sophocles’s Antigone on the London stage.

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Some more sketchy notes:

On long takes: “fantastic, close to life, liberation, freedom, trust, thrilling.”

On aging: “It’s truth”

On the relationship between the director, the actor, and the script:

“The actor and director are one in the film. Nothing about me. It’s the director bringing out [the script] through me. Words are written on the page then you live it, like an incarnation. You live it, bring the script to life.”

“Trust is what makes the miracle… trust between actor and director.”

On actors:

“We are incarnated philosophers.”

On genres:

“I never divide. You cannot divide things. The comic side of life and the tragic side come together… connected. I never divide into genres.”

When asked about “failure”:

“What does ‘failure’ mean? You learn about yourself through extremes, over obstacles. How you see success depends on your point of view. To me it’s a journey… taking risks, facing the unknown. That’s the joy of it.”

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Of all the film clips, one struck deep in me with inexplicable resonance. And that’s from Binoche’s Oscar winning role as the WWII nurse Hana in The English Patient (1996). For me, that was one of the most memorable movie moments of all time.

Here’s that tender scene when Hana is led by candles on the path to Kip, who then takes her to the Medieval Chapel. He harnesses and raises her up to look at the frescoe paintings on the walls. Holding a flare for light, she dangles from the ceiling, immersed in pure delight. And the music, composer Gabriel Yared’s Bach-like melody has remained in my mind ever since:

On her role playing Hana:

“She has to start from scratch. I like people who have to start over again.”

On director Anthony Minghella: “friendly and loving.”

And Michael Ondaatje’s reaction to that mesmerizing cinematic moment: “I wish I had written this scene in my book.”

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The conversations were just a little over an hour. The standing in line waiting for 90 minutes in front of CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio to get in (for a good seat to take my photos, but as you can see, still not close enough) was worth it. I likely won’t have another chance to see and hear Juliette Binoche in person again.

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