Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
Last weekend saw the release of Claire Denis’ “Let the Sunshine In,” starring one of the only famous actors in the world *not* to appear in “Infinity War:” The great Juliette Binoche. From her indelible work with legendary auteurs like Jean-Luc Godard, Abbas Kiarostami, and Hou Hsiao-hsien, to her standout performances in more traditional fare like “The English Patient” and “Chocolate,” very few people in the film world have built such a dynamic and impressive body of work.
This week’s question: What is Juliette Binoche’s best performance?
Max Weiss (@maxthegirl), Baltimore Magazine
Holy smokes, Juliette Binoche has great taste in material! She also doesn’t give bad performances—and mostly gives great ones—so this was a toughie. I seriously considered her sexy and enigmatic performance in Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy” and her nuanced and self-excavating performance in Olivier Assayas’ “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” but when I reflect on Binoche, I immediately think of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s “Bleu”—the first of his “Three Colours” trilogy. No filmmaker has captured her preternatural beauty (the woman was meant to be framed in shades of cobalt blue) and her immense depth of feeling better. It’s one of the most visceral and haunting depictions of grief—and rebirth—ever committed to film.
Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker
Juliette Binoche vaulted quickly to the top, with the tenderness, the vulnerability, the ferocity of “Mauvais Sang,” and she brings the same qualities—strengthened and structured by the inner architecture of experience and reflection as well as by the sharp edges of precisely derisive and self-deprecating humor—to “Let the Sunshine In.” The power and complexity of her performance in “Certified Copy” is a close third.
Manuela Lazic (@manilazic), Freelance for Little White Lies
Claire Denis’ “Let The Sunshine In” is at once a masterpiece for the director and for its lead actress, Juliette Binoche. As corny as it sounds, this film truly feels like the apotheosis and synthesis of both of these talents’ years of work in film.
As Denis’ heroine Isabelle, Binoche gets to be all her most memorable characters at once. She’s in turns as strong and sexy as her femme fatale in Louis Malle’s “Damage,” as neurotic as her Aude Van Peteghem in Bruno Dumont’s hysterical “Slack Bay,” and as heartbroken and heartbreaking as she was in Kieslowski’s unforgettable “Three Colours: Blue.”
Isabelle’s perpetual indecisiveness and her endless hunger for life make her persevere through her pains and joys. Nothing can stop her from expressing herself, even if her mood changes from one second to the next – even if she doesn’t make sense. Denis doesn’t take Isabelle on a journey of self-discovery as much as she takes us to a museum of the feminine experience: maddening, incoherent, sometimes ugly and always mesmerizing, this woman’s life is full. Only an actress of Binoche’s range and singularity could make this reality, as crazy as it seems, feel believable and relatable.
Siddhant Adlakha (@SidizenKane), Freelance for The Village Voice, SlashFilm
Asking someone to pick just one Juliette Binoche performance is about as difficult as sitting through 31 hours of Marvel movies for charity, but since that David Ehrlich fella actually went through with it, I suppose pushing myself to decide on #PeakBinoche is the least I can do.
“Clouds of Sils Maria.” If I’m naming just one, it has to be “Clouds of Sils Maria.” Olivier Assayas’ strange, hypnotic art film (see: film about art) is centered entirely around two performances. Chances are you’ve heard Kristen Stewart’s praised to no end already, but Binoche’s Maria Enders is a character for the ages. An actress in her twilight years (by cinema’s unhealthily rigorous standards), Enders returns to the play that made her famous in her youth per the request of its recently departed director — like some kind of phantom herself — as she attempts to recapture a time long past.
Binoche’s disappointing search for authenticity rivals Oscar Isaac’s in “Inside Llewyn Davis” — a double feature I will program once elected President — only Enders hides her defeat behind layers of conditioned cockiness. She’s hardened by the images of “artist” and “celebrity” that she’s garnered over the decades. Only now that both these definitions are in flux in the age of New Media, she has little to hold on to by way of identity, especially once she’s cast opposite Hollywood’s new it-girl. It’s often hard to tell what bits of “Sils Maria” are rehearsal and what’s a genuine display of frustration (by design; it’s a piece tailor-made for great actors willing to search), and Binoche straddles these worlds with a restrained sadness. Maria Enders isn’t a monster, but she’s the kind of person whose armoured exterior is hard to pierce. Binoche however exploits every crack in the character’s meticulous facade, suggesting empathy (rather than demanding it) for a woman who keeps pushing people away. A remarkable balancing act.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough), Vague Visages
As I get older, I often re-visit Juliette Binoche’s layered performance in Abbas Kiarostami’s 2010 film “Certified Copy.” Both the existential dialogue and Tuscany setting have appeal, but the film connects on a visceral level, to me, because of the authentic performances from Binoche and co-star William Shimell. Additionally, Kiarostami’s dual narrative raises questions about reality and certified copies, making Binoche’s acting that much more affecting.
As “she,” Binoche communicates a variety of emotions with each heavy conversation. She’s curious then frustrated, strong-headed then vulnerable. Midway through, a single tear drops from Binoche’s eye while listening to Shimell’s James Miller tell a story, leading one to question her character’s background and motivations. And then Kiarostami seamlessly disrupts the perceived narrative by switching everything around — a real mindf**k.
Like Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, “Certified Copy” feels more powerful with each viewing, more powerful with age. Whether it’s Binoche’s non-verbal behavior or her manner of speech, there’s much to analyze about how memories trigger specific emotions, and how those feelings positively or negatively affects one’s train-of-thought at the present moment.
Carlos Aguilar (@Carlos_Film), Freelance
Lead roles in which master thespian Juliette Binoche excels abound: the startling dance sequence among fireworks in Carax’s “The Lovers on the Bridge” or every line of dialogue she delivers in multiple languages for Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy” are prime examples. However, it’s her more recent effort as obnoxious aristocrat Aude Van Peteghem in Bruno Dumont’s “Slack Bay” that reminds us Binoche can play with tone and go for broke into a farcical performance if needed. Even as part of a collection of eccentric characters and darkly whimsical ideas in Dumont’s madcap take on class, she manages to stand out. Her turn as this pompous and overbearing woman desperate for attention and purpose is hysterical.
Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail / Film Festival Today
I am torn between “Three Colors: Blue” (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1993), “Code Unknown (Michael Haneke, 2000), “Dan in Real Life” (Peter Hedges, 2007) and “Clouds of Sils Maria” (Olivier Assayas, 2014), with the first and last sort of eking out a win for my love. Whatever the film, Binoche is always committed to the role, raw feeling often combined with a veneer of repression that makes her characters a study in emotional performance par excellence. Hell, I even loved her in “Godzilla” (Gareth Edwards, 2014), a film I otherwise loathe. She is nothing short of one of the greatest actresses of her generation, versatile in both (her native) French and English.
In Kieslowski’s “Blue” – the first of the trilogy that includes “White” and “Red,” with each film loosely associated, in turn, with the “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” ideals of the French state – she plays a woman who loses both her husband and her child, and is therefore liberated from all restrictions. After a period where she also becomes unmoored from all bearings, she (somewhat) rights the ship of her life; watching her go through that growth is a cinematic joy. In Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria,” she similarly falls apart when her young assistant (played by an equally magnificent Kristen Stewart) and she practice a play where they are lovers. Life imitates art imitates life, and it is magnificent. Vive la Binoche!
David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire
As tempting as it is to say “Godzilla” (and it’s very, very tempting — if only to stay on-brand), Binoche’s turn in “Certified Copy” may be the most delicate and impressive display of film acting this century. No other performance in recent memory feels so alive or so dynamic — somehow both self-possessed and yet acutely responsive to every microscopic change in the atmosphere around her. It’s a performance that makes us believe in her character’s truth, even if the truth of her character is impossible to pin down.