Tag Archives: Juliette Binoche

Belle of the Ball

The Truth

by Matt Weiner

Actors getting lost in a role can become the stuff of legends, or the butt of jokes—as Olivier’s advice allegedly went to Dustin Hoffman, “Why don’t you just try acting?” In The Truth, director Hirokazu Kore-eda takes one of film’s most iconic actresses and sets to demolishing the notion that an artist could ever separate who they are from what they have to say.

The film is Kore-eda’s first foray outside of Japan, and a worthy follow-up to his masterful 2018 drama Shoplifters. The drama, also written by Kore-eda, has a lighter touch in The Truth, but it’s no less arresting thanks to a brilliant self-referential performance from Catherine Deneuve.

Deneuve plays Fabienne, an idol of French cinema now at a point in her life when she’s ready to look back on her storied career. Fabienne’s daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) has brought along her family from America to pay Fabienne a visit. When Lumir gets an early look at Fabienne’s memoir, she lashes out at the wide gulf between Fabienne the myth and Fabienne the mother, the one who pursued her art to the detriment of everything else in her life.

One family’s drama becomes a delightful interrogation of memory and art. And as if the unreliable memoir weren’t enough to drive the point home, Fabienne is also currently filming a new movie against an up-and-coming actress playing her younger version.

The film’s quirky sci-fi twist forces Fabienne to face her younger self, and the grande dame of French cinema isn’t quite ready to relinquish her fading star power to what she sees as a poor imitation of her own youthful rise to celebrity.

Kore-eda blurs the lines even further by referencing Deneuve’s breakout years, specifically Belle de Jour, with posters and costumes dotting Fabienne’s house and still exerting a powerful hold on her sense of self-worth. (Ethan Hawke’s understated turn as Lumir’s bohemian husband Hank also feels like an alternate universe version of Jesse from the Before trilogy… but that might also just be Hawke’s natural “these are my ‘just chilling in France’ vibes.” Either way, the man is living his best life.)

The result is a family drama that manages to humanize the dysfunction without fully absolving anyone. Fabienne might be a legend, but she’s still only human. Living an entire life unmoored, unable to process anything in the moment without layers of artifice to mediate any real emotion, seems like it should be punishment enough.

Stranger than Fiction

Non-Fiction

by Hope Madden

Nothing ever changes. That appears to be the sentiment behind Olivier Assayas’s chamber dramedy Non-Fiction, a tale set in the middle of the dying publishing industry, a relic that either needs to embrace digital disruption or die trying.

Or does it?

Hard to say, although a lot is being said. This is perhaps Assayas’s talkiest and most Parisian film to date. And yet, it’s breezy and honest. It’s also cagey and cynical.

What Non-Fiction is depends on your mood, perhaps, because every scene unfolds in about thirty ways. Jubilant performances buoy whip-smart writing that skewers the very platitudes it seems to be promoting.

Novelist and lazy anarchist Leonard (Vincent Macaigne) prefers to ever-so-slightly tweak his own daily life and liaisons than create characters and plots. Unfortunately, the audience at large – and his friend and editor Alain (Guillaume Canet – incredible) in particular – have grown weary. Is it even fiction? And do the women so thinly veiled in the works have any right to their own stories?

Does it even matter? Audio books and eReaders are the hot tickets now, or so says Laure (Christa Théret), sent to the publisher to drum up excitement for a digital transformation.

Well, Alain’s wife Selena (Juliette Binoche, also spectacular) prefers real, concrete books. She’s an actress coming to terms with bingeable cop shows rather than stage work, except when she’s not.

Valerie (Nora Hamzawi) turns out to be the only straightforward and entirely decent character in the film. The fact that she is A) the only one entirely outside of entertainment and publishing, and B) indeed in politics, allows Assays to say quite a lot about his feelings for the industry.

And as everyone talks and talks and desperately talks about changing paradigms in taste, consumption and art, they are eating, drinking and having sex. Because truly, some things do not change—especially in French films.

Assayas keeps his incredibly verbose scenes aloft with a wandering camera that feels like another guest at the party. Bright, funny, biting performances highlight actors who relish the challenge of bringing the script to life. Binoche is at her slippery best.

Non-Fiction toes the line of being too smart for its own good, of losing its audience for its serpentine commentary. But it never does. Assayas and his savvy foursome are having too much fun themselves for their effort to do anything other than entertain.

Star Child

High Life

by George Wolf

In tackling the final frontier, it’s not surprising that unconventional filmmaker Claire Denis shows little interest in the usual themes that dominate the sci-fi genre. High Life floats very deliberately in its own headspace, touching down somewhere between enlightened consciousness and acid-blooded killing machines.

Monte (Robert Pattinson) appears to be the last survivor of a spacecraft’s crew, but he’s not alone in deep space. He has baby Willow to care for, tending to her needs while he performs his duties and files the regular progress reports that feel increasingly futile.

The infant is one of many general questions director/co-writer Denis casually raises before playing with the film’s timeline to address them, all the while picking at the scabs of deeper insights into the primal desires and self-destructive instincts we cannot escape.

Denis is more than aware of her genre playground (there is a character named Chandra, after all), and while you may be reminded of other sci-fi institutions, High Life lives in the uncomfortable places even the best of these films gloss over. It is bleak and often surreal, draped in the stifling desperation of a crew seemingly controlled by Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche – a terrific model of subtle menace).

There is sex (Binoche’s solo sequence is damn near unforgettable) but no affection, reproduction reduced to its most clinical nature and an element of body horror that Denis’s close-up camerawork demands you acknowledge. Though the deep space effects may not be big-budget worthy, succinct visual storytelling is always in play.

In the latest of many challenging indie roles he’s been choosing post-Twilight, Pattinson is again impressive. In a succession of unlikable characters, he gives Monte a gradually sympathetic layer, an element that becomes critical to making the film’s third act as effective, and ultimately hopeful, as it is.

To her credit, Denis has always shown little regard for standard convention. While there is much to be gleaned from the opening and closing shots of her latest, it is the ride in between that makes High Life such a different animal.





Good Day Sunshine

Let the Sunshine In

by Hope Madden

Claire Denis + Juliet Binoche = yes, please.

For her latest, Let the Sunshine In, the unerringly insightful French filmmaker takes on middle aged dating, following behind an exasperated Isabelle (Binoche) as she rotates through a series of relationships in Paris.

Isabelle is an artist, though her work—and her 10-year-old daughter, for that matter—are trivialities here. The point is the journey toward that last, real companion for the rest of the journey.

Could it be the boorish, married banker (Xavier Beauvois, flawlessly intolerable)? The boozy but oh-so-dreamy stage actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle)? Sensitive artist (Denis regular Alex Descas)? Brooding guy with the smooth dance moves (Paul Blain)? Ex-husband (Laurent Grevill)?

Whew! Who needs a rest?

Don’t look for any additional plot here. Denis’s focus, through a circuitous story of relationships crumbling, rekindling and sparking for the first time, simply illuminates the passionate daily trivialities of mid-life dating. She strips away nearly everything besides the ups and downs of Isabelle’s romantic life, sometimes skipping weeks at a time to pinpoint not the relationship itself, but each beginning and end.

And, of course, that intoxicating moment of promise —of love? Sex? Rejection? Few filmmakers capture that one moment, breathless and nervous, as authentically as Denis does.

It’s dizzying. No wonder Isabelle’s always so tired.

Binoche’s generous performance as the self-sabotaging Isabelle embraces the insecurities, optimism and neediness that color the character’s quest. Though never laugh-out-loud funny, the film is a comedy of sorts. There is something absurd about the assault of highs and lows, the desperate lurches toward love and the inevitably disappointing consequences.

And then a big cry and she’s off again.

Though Isabelle is a frustrating, often unlikeable character, the film never judges her. It’s too late to settle, which is a dangerous, selfish, vulnerable decision to make.

Good for her.





A Maria Full of Grace

Clouds of Sils Maria

by George Wolf

Somewhere between Twilight and the tabloids, Kristen Stewart began doing some real acting. She’s better than ever in Clouds of Sils Maria, and though hers is a supporting role alongside one of the screen’s major talents, Stewart pulls plenty of weight in a terrific drama with much to say.

Juliette Binoche is customarily excellent as Maria, a famous actress returning to the stage in a revival of the play that launched her career twenty years earlier. This time, though, she’s playing the older female lead, while a Lindsay Lohan clone named Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz, striking just the right tone of clueless entitlement) is taking the role Maria originated.

Stewart is Maria’s ever-present personal assistant Valentine, who not only runs both errands and lines for Maria, but serves as her bridge to a younger generation.

Writer/director Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours) takes the intimate psychological playground of Polanski’s Venus in Fur, and laces it with the pop culture commentary of Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. Binoche and Stewart swim gracefully inside the play within a play setup, slowly moving Maria and Valentine in directions that mirror the script both characters are reading.

The actresses display an easy chemistry, never more apparent than when Valentine is trying to sell Maria on the merits of young Hollywood. In the film’s most deliciously meta moment, Stewart might just as well be telling all of us Twilight haters to get over it already.

Assayas’s script is sharp and his camera is fluid, effectively blurring the line between onstage and off. Revisiting the play forces Maria to confront her past and question her present, and Binoche reveals the various layers with a gentle, masterful touch.

The beauty of Clouds of Sils Maria lies in its subtle complexity. It offers sly insights that sneak up on you, and an exceptional cast to make them stick.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 





Flirting in the Teacher’s Lounge

 

Words and Pictures

by George Wolf

 

What the? A summer movie aimed squarely at adults?

Where are the superheroes? Where are the explosions? Where’s the teen angst?

Even with its faults, Words and Pictures feels like a cool breeze in July, as clever repartee and winning performances combine for a throwback to classic, feel-good romance films of decades past.

And true to that spirit, our romantics start out as sparring adversaries.

Jack (Clive Owen) teaches honors English at a prep school. His promise as a writer is a distant memory, and he eases the self-loathing with constant word-game challenges to his fellow teachers, and plenty of alcohol. His antics on both fronts have led to his job hanging in the balance.

Dina (Juliette Binoche) is a respected artist struggling with failing health. She arrives at the school to teach honors art, and is immediately put off by Jack’s confrontational nature.

The confrontations escalate once Jack’s students tell him the new art teacher’s mantra:  pictures are more vital than words.

Oh, no she dih-eh!

Like many of us of a certain age, screenwriter Gerald Di Pego is clearly chagrined at how society devalues not only the classic works of art and literature, but their very building blocks: images and prose. That complaint may not be new, but Di Pego finds some fun while pointing out that it’s still very relevant.

His script still has minefields aplenty – contrived situations, superfluous subplots and oversimplified personal demons – and Fred Schepisi’s lackluster direction doesn’t help, but Owen and Binoche are good enough to rise above it. They make every one of their scenes together a sublime delight.

You’ll have no trouble figuring out where Words and Pictures is going, but the witty wordplay and frisky chemistry of two veteran talents make it worth seeing through.

 Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehQimFhQmQg