View Comments
Binoche in new erotic role
Binoche in new erotic role

When Juliette Binoche stood on the Toronto Film Festival stage last September after the world premiere of Elles, her collaboration with Polish director Malgoska Szumowska, she was asked about her convincing masturbation scene.

"Oh it's not for real, I was acting," she told the crowd, insisting in her naturally effervescent and very French way.

The following day she was still incredulous. "The person who asked that question thought it was for real. Can you imagine?"

Binoche is a rare actress who will do adventurous things and will talk about her experiences. Yet she has not always been so open.

Once retiring and prepared to give little away, now at 48 she seemingly couldn't care less, and goes for it. She may not reveal the name of her current boyfriend - she has never married though has had a string of high-profile relationships - but she is up for discussing almost anything else.

"I don't care that much what people think anymore," she says, "and it gives me a kind of freedom. You have to have a little humour about yourself, otherwise you're not going to survive."

With her legs up on a coffee table and a sweater draped around her neck, Binoche seems infinitely relaxed. She is a far cry from Anne, the pent-up wife, mother and journalist she plays in Elles.

The Paris-set story, co-written by Szumowska and Tine Byrckel, follows Anne as she writes an expose on student sex workers, one of whom is Polish and the other French. Through the young women she sees a very different side of life and realises her inability to express her own sensuality in her marriage.

Does Binoche think that is a problem for married women in general?

"Probably after 20 years of marriage but it depends on the people. I think it must be challenging to try and maintain a healthy, loving sexual relationship," she says.

"It's complex. Some women need the structure of marriage to feel protected, but I believe that unless you are really happy with the person and you can evolve while sharing your life, then one day it's going to explode."

At times Binoche looks quite worn out on screen, especially in her close-ups.

"When we came out of the premiere screening, I told Malgoska I wanted a certified copyright," she muses, punning on her Cannes-winning role in Certified Copy.

"'Why did you do that to me?' I asked her. We laughed about it. Still I understand Anne's fear, that's why I took the role, and it was necessary to show how she was and who she was."

Binoche's face is one of her tools and she would never change it.

"I own those lines, even though I've gained some more," she smiles, pointing at the culprits.

In one of our previous interviews Binoche had said that women bloom at 40 and she couldn't wait for 40 to come. Has it all been good?

"I would have to say I'm happy with my life because I think I met the right man and I did have the career I wanted to have. So I feel free. I feel free to say no to a film or to go ahead and say yes.

"But there is something inside you, you gain something even if physically you are changing. As an actor it's frightening but at the same time that's the way life goes. If you fight back you are not going to win. The journey is one of acceptance."

Binoche is very much the creative type. She paints, she dances and she likes movie directors who devise "a creative universe". Szumowska drew on the realistic portrayals Binoche had delivered in the movies of Michael Haneke, rather than on her more ethereal work with Krzysztof Kieslowski in Three Colours: Blue.

"To create a picture of Juliette as extremely beautiful and looking like an angel is not how I do things," Szumowska admits in her forthright manner. "I was searching for a woman of a certain age who is beautiful but who you can see is getting older and I was searching for somebody who can show that."

Szumowska says Elles focuses on the attitudes of differing generations to love and sex which apply to women everywhere. She helped Binoche research internet sites and used an Australian website, beautifulagony.com for the actress to watch in her preparation for the masturbation scene.

"There are these little video scenes where they just film the face and the girl going through masturbation," Binoche explains. "So I said to Malgoska 'You choose the one you like', and she picked out 50 of them. It's so interesting to see how the girls reveal themselves because they seem to have no problem doing it in front of the camera.

"When we finally were doing the scene, I asked her what she wanted. In fact I really asked her to direct me, because otherwise it was too hard to do."