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Interview: Juliette Binoche On ‘Sils Maria,’ The Career/Life Balance & Finally Going Hollywood In ‘Godzilla’

Interview: Juliette Binoche On 'Sils Maria,' The Career/Life Balance & Finally Going Hollywood In 'Godzilla'

When revered Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami cancelled his attendance at the Marrakech Film Festival due to ill health, the organizers could have had a further problem on their hands as he was meant, in addition to giving a masterclass, to be handing out the award at one of the “Hommages”—the tributes given to a filmmaker or actor in recognition of their body of work. However, that one headache didn’t occur here because the recipient was Juliette Binoche, practically the busiest actress on the planet, and Bruno Dumont, her director in this year’s “Camille Claudel” and himself the subject of a Marrakech masterclass, stepped into the breach instead. It’s a mark of just how constantly she is shooting, and with what calibre of filmmaker, that, throw a stone at a festival like this, and you’ll hit two or three people who have worked with Binoche, and probably recently.

We ourselves last caught up with the actress back in February during the Berlinale where she was promoting “Camille Claudel” (review here). This time out, the film that was the new news was Erik Poppe’s “A Thousand Times Good Night” (review here). In it, Binoche plays a famous war photographer caught between the extreme demands of her vocation and her family obligations. Here she talks about the role, about her wary relationship with Hollywood and about how she feels, especially with next year’s “Sils Maria” from Olivier Assayas, that she is more in the driving seat of her career than ever before.

What did you discover when researching the part of the intrepid war photographer you play here?
Well, for one thing, when you go to Afghanistan it’s a different situation. When you go mostly into Muslim worlds there’s a real difference. I spoke with Lynsey Addario who’s a war photographer and went to Afghanistan several times. It’s amazing how she prepares her trips before going. It’s not improvised at the last minute; it’s pretty organized, especially when it’s very dangerous.

And what answers do you think this film gives about the moral questions that war photography poses?
I don’t know whether it gives an answer, this film. It definitely gives some questions because, at the beginning, she can take pictures of this suicide bomber. At the end of the story, she cannot take pictures of the suicide bomber, so there’s been some kind of reflection and layers she’s reached throughout the story; it doesn’t give the answer of it, it’s for you to understand what you want to understand. I’ve met with a war photographer who decided to stop because it was too hard, and because putting himself in a dangerous place, there’s a moment where you think about your life, you think about why you need to go there. Of course, you can find a lot of reasons why you’re there: You want to show the world, you’re angry, you want to show the reality of things, the truth of it. But then to put your life in danger or to witness such horror; there’s a question about “What do I want to do with my life, and what do I want to report to others about life?” 

There are interesting questions to it because there are more and more photographers; especially women because of the Muslim world situation. It brings the question about, as a woman, to have a passion and a dangerous passion; why is it not as accepted as a man going to a war zone and having a family as well. There’s a huge difference. People don’t accept that a woman would go into a war zone—people think “Oh, she’s a bad mother.” But that wouldn’t be their first thought for the father.

Can we make parallel between the character’s dedication to her job and yours?
I’m a fighter as a mother. I’m fighting to be a mother, but I cannot say no to my passion because it’s me, as well. You have to combine those crazy situations anyway because that’s what life gives you. I wouldn’t choose one or the other, never; it never occurred to me. [My children] have a special mother, but they’re very special, as well. I’ve always been cautious of them having what they need. They’ve been traveling a lot with me, and sometimes they choose not to travel with me. It’s always been an adaptation of a situation; it’s never been “It’s always like this. Mom decided…or Dad decided…”

You adapt to what’s going on because life is changing all the time. As my work sometimes is here or there, or theater or something else; it’s never the same. The best mother is the mother who adapts, and the best children are the children who adapt, as well. Too much of knowing exactly…for me it doesn’t work like that. But I understand some people who need to go to the office [each day]; I don’t need that. Probably because I don’t feel unstable inside, I feel stability. I can go around, that’s fine. Maybe if I was unstable, I would need something more controllable.

You mentioned in Berlin that you’ve been trying to get back together with Abbas Kiarostami again?
That’s true! But for the moment he needs time off. He’s into photography, he’s into poetry, but he’s probably thinking a lot. And right now he’s sick.

And the other big thing is that you’re signed on to “Godzilla.” How did that come about?
Yeah, it’s my new career! I received the most beautiful letter from Gareth Edwards, the director. It was very heartfelt. And filming that it was fun. 

Did you just want to play opposite a big lizard having famously turned down “Jurassic Park”?
Oh, I mean there I’d already said yes to Kieslowski for “Blue” and there was no way I was going to back up and say “Goodbye, I’m going to do ‘Jurassic Park’!” I was very touched that Spielberg asked me to be in the film. He said “it’d be fun for you,” but it just didn’t happen.

So how has your career evolved to this diverse point now?
[In the past] I was given the parts, they were coming to me. Now, I’m going where I want to go. On “Sils Maria,” I gave a phone call to Olivier Assayas [with the idea], and he wrote a beautiful script. So I brought an idea and he transformed it into his and that was the beauty of it. I gave him a sprout and after that he just went with it.

He said you inspired him, though.
Yeah, it was such a blessing to work with him. Because I made a film before with him [“Summer Hours”] and I was angry with him because I didn’t think we had a connection while we were working together on the first shoot. So that’s why I thought who am I gonna ask to do this? And I thought “Olivier! Because he missed me!” And then when we were shooting I felt so blessed, that was my dream coming true. It was enlightening… He’s editing it [at the moment], it’s a lot of work.

Speaking to Charlotte Rampling earlier, she had views on the French film industry. She feels they make too many movies in France at the moment. Do you agree?
Well maybe…The first movie is pretty easy, after that the second movie is more difficult. And because there are so many films it’s hard for the first movie to work, so the second movie is almost impossible. Also, in France they happen very easily with the script and everything. Maybe about six months more of work [at the script stage] would be a little better!

How about the French actresses today who work in Hollywood, making big blockbusters and then make French films too?
I never really worked in Hollywood. Some American producers came to Europe to shoot films with me, so it’s a different situation… It was not my aim. I wanted to work with people from the world, with different minds and different visions. It wasn’t an idea of being there [in Hollywood] because then you’re part of the system. The system, if you know how to work with it, can give you freedom to do other things, but the bargain to do a commercial film [in order] to do an art film—that is not me.

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