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Juliette Binoche Talks About Her Personal Connection to 'Elles,' Masturbating on Film, and What Scares Her

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire April 27, 2012 at 10:54AM

It's easy to take Juliette Binoche for granted. Since winning her Oscar back in 1996 for her turn in Anthony Minghella's "The English Patient," the French actress hasn't struck a false note (there's a reason the French press refer to her as 'La Binoche'; the woman is a national treasure) with uncompromising and varied turns in a slew of critically acclaimed art-house darlings including Michael Haneke's "Cache," Olivier Assayas' "Summer Hours," Hsiao-hsien Hou's "Flight of the Red Balloon," Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy," and now "Elles," from Polish filmmaker on-the-rise Malgorzata Szumowska.
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"Elles"
Kino Lorber "Elles"

It's easy to take Juliette Binoche for granted.

Since winning her Oscar back in 1996 for her turn in Anthony Minghella's "The English Patient," the French actress hasn't struck a false note (there's a reason the French press refer to her as 'La Binoche'; the woman is a national treasure) with uncompromising and varied turns in a slew of critically acclaimed art-house darlings including Michael Haneke's "Cache," Olivier Assayas' "Summer Hours," Hsiao-hsien Hou's "Flight of the Red Balloon," Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy," and now "Elles," from Polish filmmaker on-the-rise Malgorzata Szumowska.

In "Elles," Binoche stars as Anne, a freelance journalist tasked with writing an article for ELLE magazine, about female college students working as prostitutes. Her interviews with two candid subjects lead Anne to question the relationships she has with the men in her life (namely her husband and her two sons), forcing her down a path that threatens to shake up her stable and very bourgeoisie existence.

Next up for Binoche is Bruno Dumont's biopic "Camille Claudel," which will see the actress playing the famed sculptor during her time spent in a mental asylym, and David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis," making its world premiere at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival.

Indiewire sat down with Binoche in New York, following "Elles"'s screening at the Tribeca Film Festival. [It opens today in select theaters, via Kino Lorber.]

I’m curious about your role as Camille Claudel. Have you already finished wrapping or are you taking a break now to do press for "Elles"?

No, no it’s finished. We finished two weeks ago.

"Elles"
Kino Lorber "Elles"
How did that experience go for you?

Fantastic. I felt like sculpting somebody. It was a great experience of jumping into it fully, and then after that getting nude inside.

The film takes place during her stay in the mental hospital?

Yes.

Is that how it differs from the film of the same name, starring Isabelle Adjani?

It’s almost the following of the other film.

Was playing Claudel more freeing for you than your work in "Elles," where you play such a repressed character, desperate for an escape from her everyday life?

Well, I wouldn’t compare it in that way because Camille Claudel was very much… she didn’t interact a lot with the handicapped [in the asylum]. Camille needed to protect herself because she didn’t want to stay there. But about "Elles"… I mean, what happens is that she’s gradually throughout this day adding, adding, adding inside. And it gets into a crisis once she goes away. It’s like she can’t stand it anymore. She can’t stand the lies anymore, the kind of standard of behavior that society requires because she’s been scratching a little bit and seeing her solitude, the lack of interaction with her family -- even though it seems everything is so strongly put together and achieved.

She has the house, she has the husband, she has the children, she has the work, she has the furniture, she has the space, blah blah blah. But she is not feeling fulfilled. She's envious in a way of those young girls’ freedom, and yet understanding it’s not that freeing, it’s damaging.

"I had to fight to be respected. I was lucky to recognize my passion and lucky to get a job quite early on compared to others. It’s a struggle; you can never forget that."
"Elles" challenged me as viewer. From the outset, I felt it glamorized prostitution in some ways. I went into "Elles" thinking it was going to take a moral stance and judge the women for how they make a living, but it doesn’t.

Because you have to understand the motivations of those young girls. It seems from the outside, that they want to have chic things, they want to have the items of luxury and all that, but there’s a gradual realization that it’s not that. The lack of protection, the lack of being looked after is the real issue.

Also, the state help is not strong enough for students who don’t have money. So they cannot study with the money that’s been given so that means they have to work. And the work while you study is almost impossible, because you have to have hours to study, you have to have hours to take courses, and you have to have your mind and physical ability. And when you work, it’s draining.

It makes me think. The film makes me think. But also, I went through a stage of being a student, so I know the difficulty of it. I know the struggle of it. I didn’t have state support, didn’t have family support. So I worked as a cashier for a while. And then I was doing small jobs as an actor and didn’t feel always respected. I had to fight to be respected. I was lucky to recognize my passion and lucky to get a job quite early on compared to others. It’s a struggle; you can never forget that.

Did you know anybody who had gone through a similar experience?

I had a girlfriend who was courting.

Are you still close with her?

No, I lost track of her.

This article is related to: Interviews, Juliette Binoche, Elles, Michael Haneke, Tribeca Film Festival





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