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.

***

 

 

Tuffing it out at TIFF14

Attending TIFF is always a memorable experience. The tough part, I’ve to admit, is the constant waiting in line to enter the theatre even when you have a ticket. It’s all for your advantage of course, with the general seating, the earlier in line the better seat you can find. Hundreds of ticket holders queuing up around the block is a typical TIFF sighting in downtown Toronto every September.

But waiting in line for over an hour to see a 70 minute film? That was for the screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s newest work Goodbye to Language 3D. Was it worth it? Let’s just say, it’s an existential experience. And we even had the privilege of sitting down, albeit in the rain, Waiting for Godard:

Waiting for Godard

As expected, Godard himself didn’t show. But I got to experience his latest work wearing 3D glasses. Never imagined the legendary French New Wave auteur whose first works date back to the 1950’s, and who had made such iconic films like Breathless (1960) and Vivre Sa Vie (1962), now at 83, would be stirring up a newer wave of postmodern, visual fragments in 3D. The concept of ‘film’ just might need to be redefined with his Goodbye To Language 3D.

I’d seen twelve films over the ten-day film festival, purposely skipping those which I think would likely be released in our theatres in the next few months. So no, I didn’t watch the Grolsch People’s Choice Award Winner, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. All the buzz surrounding it points to the repeat of previous People’s Choice winners like 12 Years A Slave (2013), Silver Linings Playbook (2012), The King’s Speech (2010), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), with a trajectory towards the Oscars.

Nor have I seen other more popular productions like Black and White, Mr Turner, The Judge, The Theory of Everything, While We Were Young, Whiplash, Wild, Hector and the Pursuit of Happiness, which I just might have the chance for a free promo ticket coming up in our city soon.

The highlight for me has to be the Mavericks Conversation with Juliette Binoche. The 1.5 hour standing in line outside CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio was worth it. Juliette Binoche is one of my all time favourite actors. So this 90 mins. of conversations, retrospective film clips of her works, Q & A is one of the gem of TIFF14 for me. A more detailed post will come later.

In chronological order over ten days, here’s the annotated list of my viewing, for now. Detailed reviews might follow:

Clouds of Sils Maria — Clouds appear like a slithering snake at the top of the Swiss Alps. They silently creep in, wrap the mountains and disappear just as you begin to marvel. Apt metaphor for aging, fame, and the ephemeral. While Juliette Binoche always delivers, it’s Kristen Stewart that had my full attention and respect. Kudos to acclaimed French director Olivier Assayas.

Winter Sleep — Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, three hours of incisive and meditative exploration into the human soul. According to IMDb, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has won 62 times. But this my first taste of his work and yes, that’s the kind of films I look for in a film festival.

Force Majeure — A loving married couple bringing their two young children on a ski vacation is confronted with a most unexpected and testing scenario. Should the husband’s spontaneous response to a near accident be the gauge of his love for and loyalty to his wife and family? A stylish and at times very funny, well crafted film.

High Society — Not all festival films are created equal. Here’s one that, alas, is a waste of my time standing in line and sitting through. The topic is interesting enough, albeit has been dealt with countless times: a love (or lust?) affair shattered by class and social differences. Well intentioned, but just another cliché riddled with flaws.

Still Alice — Julianne Moore is very effective in portraying a Columbia U. linguistic prof afflicted with early onset Alzeimer’s, adapted from the popular book by Lisa Genova. This might just be Moore’s chance for another Oscar nom. Can a film be too loyal to the book? Yes, I think it is here. While the movie is well executed, I think the director could have taken a little more liberty in using the medium for more cinematic moments.

Maps to the Stars — Nom for the Palme d’Or, and Julianne Moore winning Best Actress at Cannes this year, Canadian director David Cronenberg’s newest feature is a bold, dark, and wild satire of the celeb life of Hollywood’s rich and famous. Problem is, maybe it’s the public who’d like to see Hollywood glamourized. They want to follow the maps to the stars. So, would they want to see a film that shatter their fantasy? And, would Hollywood insiders like to be depicted as thus?

Goodbye to Language 3D — See my opening paragraphs

Seymour: An Introduction — Ethan Hawke’s documentary on the once prominent concert pianist turned inspiring piano prof at NYU. Quiet, gentle and full of wisdom, Seymour Bernstein imparts not only musical knowledge and skills to his students, but changing their perspectives on life as well. The film also explores the interface between talent and craft. A classical music lover’s film. Pure joy.

Miss Julie — Jessica Chastain is Miss Julie in this newest film adaptation of August Strindberg’s play. Screenplay written and directed by the legendary Bergman actress Liv Ullmann. Beautiful set design and cinematography. The opening leads me to reminiscence of Fanny and Alexander. Chastain offers an exquisite portrayal of the messed up and very lonely Miss Julie; Colin Farrell is surprisingly good, while Samantha Morton has a strong supportive role.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet — An international collaboration of animators crafted this beautifully rendered story embedding sayings from Kahlil Gibran’s classic The Prophet. Liam Neeson is the voice of the Poet. Beast of the Southern Wild‘s child star Quvenzhané Wallis is Almitra. The end credits lead me to a surprise finding: With thanks to the government of Alberta and B.C. Now I’m intrigued.

My Old Lady — Playwright Israel Horovitz wrote the screenplay from his stage play, came on stage to introduce the film. Mentioned Maggie Smith was willing to be part of it because she didn’t die at the end; Kevin Kline took up the role because “this could be my last chance to get the girl.” The girl? The ever beautiful Kristin Scott Thomas. A charming film.

Time Out of Mind — If there’s any major disappointment at TIFF for me it’s this one. If as some say, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is Ben Stiller’s vanity project, then Time Out Of Mind is Richard Gere’s. First off, spending some time on the street digging inside garbage bins, sleeping on park benches, or not shaving for a few days don’t make one a homeless man. A homeless man lives a homeless life, and that’s the essence of the being. A Hollywood celeb’s portrayal by Gere is putting on make-up to look like one, pretentious, exposing the inauthenticity. Even his gait gives him away. The camera work and sounds are showy and contrived; trying to be naturalistic, they present a flashy and artificial rendition. To capture a day in the life of the homeless, go do a documentary. Yes, I’m afraid I totally disagree with the critics on this one.