Conversation with Juliette Binoche

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.


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.”


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.”


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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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

15 thoughts on “Conversation with Juliette Binoche”

    1. Michelle,

      That’s exactly what even the actors thought so too, an ‘unfilmable’ film. But of course, I give kudos to director/screenwriter Anthony Minghella for writing a screenplay that, I admit, I had enjoyed much more than the book. 😉 All the special features on the DVD offer great insights into the book to film process.


  1. Juliette Binoche is quintessentially French, and I love her for that. I love that she would not succumb to Hollywood, that she named it a system. Bravo for not falling for that game. How wonderful to have seen her on the stage,to have really heard her voice without the interference of a camera. I’m so glad for you to have been there.


    1. Bellezza,

      Mind you, I read somewhere that JB had said that she turned down Jurassic Park because she had already committed to Three Colours: Blue. However, she had no regrets for what she had chosen. A look at her filmography would easily show she belongs to the indies. So, one might argue, what about Godzilla (2014, Warner Bros.)? Well, her answer was: My son wanted me to do it. There you go, there’s nothing a mother wouldn’t do for her son. 😉


  2. I saw Hail Mary when it screened at the New York Film Festival back in 1985, Arti. What I remember most about that screening was what a nightmare it was to get inside Alice Tully Hall. There was a huge angry mob protesting the film as blasphemous. What I recall most about the film was that it was rather mild. Godard may have attended but it was so long ago, I don’t recall. I remember most the struggle to enter the theater. It was scary.

    Great post on Binoche! I thought she was great in Haneke’s Code Unknown — and I thought that was a terrific film. He’s probably my favorite living filmmaker right now. Milton and I are seeing Clouds of Sils Maria on Thursday, October 9th, that’s the second screening. The first screening is the day before. That’s the US premiere. If she’s in town, she might not attend both screenings. If she does attend, our seats are fifth row, fairly centered. We might be able to get some good shots of her if there’s a q&a.


    1. LA,

      I’ve seen several of JB’s works, particularly impressed by the Three Colours trilogy, (love director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s soul stirring The Decalogue). Catching up with JB is not easy to do since many of her old titles can’t be found, Code Unknown and Hidden among them. I like the works of Michael Haneke, esp. The White Ribbon. I watched Clouds of Sils Maria in TIFF, but not the premiere, so no JB on stage. Conversation with her was another event, which left an indelible mark in me, albeit if I were the host, I’d likely ask a different set of q’s. Look forward to your upcoming NYFF posts. 😉


  3. I first saw her in “Unbearable Lightness of Being” and was captivated. Her face tells a thousand stories. Then “English Patient,” of course, and “Chocolat,” which is a favorite. I was surprised and pleased when I saw J’taime Paris” and noted she directed one of the segments as well. You are so fortunate to have seen her and I’m thinking the wait in line was well worth it. Wish i could have been there waiting adn watching with you — sounds unforgettable!


    1. Jeanie,

      Since coming back from TIFF, I’ve rewatched The English Patient on DVD and listened to the CD, love Gabriel Yared’s score, for which he won the Oscar. Come to think of it, I’ve Paris, J’taime, will rematch that soon. My previous viewing of The English Patient had been focusing more on Kristin Scott Thomas, this time I paid my attention on JB and was moved by her performance more than before. If you have a chance, watch out for her latest (screened at TIFF14) The Clouds of Sils Maria, very different, with Kristen Stewart (surprised by her nuanced performance) and Chloë Grace Moretz, the up and coming star who’s ubiquitous nowadays.


  4. I saw her first in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. She was superb in it, and certainly remained in my mind for a long time afterwards. She does wonder better than any other actress I can think of.


  5. I’m so glad you found the wait worthwhile, and I’m glad you included the clip from “The English Patient.” I haven’t seen the film, and now I’m curious. For that matter, I haven’t seen any of the films she appeared in, but I did notice that “Chocolat” is on my Amazon Prime list, so that bit of viewing will happen as soon as I have some time. Not this weekend, though — it’s turned gorgeous! A front came through, and tomorrow and Sunday are cool and Sunday, so it’s outdoor time!


    1. Linda,

      Juliette Binoche is a rarity… an Oscar star who essentially belongs to the ‘indie’ world, and a thoroughly ‘bilingual’ actor in both French and English. I’ve enjoyed her sharing on acting, actors and directors, on life in general. That’s the privilege of attending film festivals, seeing the person, not on red carpet, but in sessions like this. The English Patient won 9 Oscars, albeit there are those who have disagreed with the sweep. Regardless, its an epic and a wonderful adaptation from acclaimed Canadian author Michael Ondaatje. It’s a film, I admit, that I like more than the book. 😉


  6. She is luminous – and clearly on the inside as well as the outside. She’s the sort of actor I’d watch in anything, regardless of the film because she has such a presence. How lovely to have seen her in person.


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