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Juliette Binoche - Goddesses of the Silver Screen
231    Dibyendu Banerjee    03/08/2022

Widely regarded as one of the most prolific performers of the silver screen for the intelligent portrayal of her various complex roles and described by Roger Ebert, the famous film critic, as almost ethereal in her beauty and innocence, Juliette Binoche, a French actress, painter and dancer was born in Paris on 9 March 1964.

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Her French father, Jean-Marie Binoche was a sculptor, a theatre director and an actor, while her Polish émigré mother, Monique Yvette Stalens was a teacher and an actress. However, as their parents divorced in 1968, four-year-old Juliette and her sister Marion were sent to a provincial boarding school and had to spend their school holidays with their maternal grandmother, without meeting their parents for months at a time, which had a profound effect on little Juliette.

juliette binoche

Juliette was not particularly academic, but she began acting in amateur stage productions, when she was in school. However, after completing her general education, she studied acting at the Paris Conservatoire, where she directed and starred in a student production of the play Exit the King, by Eugène Ionesco, at the age of seventeen. But she left the Paris Conservatoire after a short while, as she disliked the curriculum. In the early 1980s, she found an agent through one of her friends and joined a touring theatre troupe, under the pseudonym Juliette Adrienne. Around that time, she came in contact with Vera Gregh, a renowned teacher of film acting and received private lessons from him.

juliette binoche
In Rendez-vous (1985)

Juliette Binoche first appeared as an extra in the television series Dorothée, danseuse de corde (1983), followed by her first feature-film appearance with a minor role in Liberty belle (1983), directed by Pascal Kane. Although she was needed only for two days on the set for her job in the film, it was enough to give her the boost to pursue her career in film and it is evident that the small roles in her early films established Juliette as a French star.

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She was auditioned and spent six months in Geneva for filming Jean-Luc-Godard’s controversial Hail Mary (1985), but her role in the final cut contained only a few scenes. She appeared in the noteworthy role of Antoinette in the mainstream French comedy Les Nanas (1985), but the experience was not particularly memorable for her. However, she gained more significant exposure and excelled in the role of Natacha, a volatile teenager in Jacques Doillon’s critically acclaimed Family Life (1985), which set the tone of her early career. Doillon was so impressed with Juliette’s audition that he changed the age of the character from 14 to 17, to allow her to play the role and she fully utilised the opportunity to prove her worth. But she fully emerged as a leading actress in André Téchiné’s Rendez-vous (1985), when she replaced Sandrine Bonnaire to play the role of Nina, a provincial woman, who arrives in Paris with the ambition to become an actress, while her beauty and personality create a glowing passion of several men. The film, premiered at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, was a sensation, winning the Best Director Award, while Juliette became the darling of the festival and was nominated for her first César Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in the film.

juliette binoche
In The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

Strangely, her success in Rendez-vous made Juliette unsure of what type of role she would accept next. Although she appeared in My Brother-in-law Killed My Sister (1986), the film was a complete failure.

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However, later in the same year, she appeared in Mauvais Sang (Bad Blood 1986), directed Leos Carax, which was a critical and commercial success, leading to her second César nomination. During August of the same year, she also began filming her first English-language film, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), directed by Philip Kaufman, based on the novel by Milan Kundera of the same name. The story of the film, set against the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968, depicts the story of a Czech surgeon, a womanizer, Tomas, his wife Tereza and his lover Sabina. Later, Juliette confessed that during that time, her English was so poor that she had to rely on a French translation to understand the role of Tereza, which she portrayed. While the film was a worldwide success, profusely acclaimed by the critics and the commoners alike, it made Juliette Binoche an international star.

juliette binoche
In Damage (1992)

Juliette won a European Film Award and also earned her third César nomination for her stunning performance in Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991), in which appeared as Michele, a painter who is forced to live on the famous Parisian bridge because of a failed relationship and an affliction which is slowly turning her blind. Interestingly, the paintings of Michele, featured in the film, were Binoche's own work and apart from that, she also designed the French poster for the film, as featuring an ink drawing of the eponymous lovers locked in an embrace. However, due to the long production of Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, Juliette had no other option, but to turn down several significant roles. But during the 1990s, her persona developed from that of a young attractive girl to a mature melancholic, tragic presence, as she relocated to London to play the role of Cathy in Wuthering Heights (1992), opposite Ralph Fiennes and the female leading role in Damage (1992), a UK and French co-production, directed by veteran French director, Louis Malle. However, Wuthering Heights earned poor reviews on its world premiere at the 1992 Edinburgh International Film Festival, while Juliette was ridiculed for her franglais accent. The other film, Damage, depicting the story of a British Conservative minister played by English actor and activist Jeremy Irons, embarking on a torrid affair with his son's fiancée, played by Juliette, seemed to be her ideal international vehicle. But reviews for the film were somewhat mixed, although Juliette Binoche received her fourth César nomination for her performance in the film.

juliette binoche
In Three Colours, Blue (1993)

After that, declining the sincere offer of Steven Spielberg for several roles, including a role in his famous film Jurassic Park, Juliette returned to France and appeared in Polish film director Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours: Blue (1993), the first film in a trilogy inspired by the ideals of the French Republic and the colours of its flag. It is the story of Julie, who after losing her husband and daughter in a car accident, intends to become numb by withdrawing herself from the world and living independently, anonymously and in complete solitude. Juliette received the Best Actress Award for her performance in the film at the 1993 Venice Film Festival, where the film was premiered, along with a César and a nomination for the Golden Globe. After her grand success in the film, she took a short break, during which she gave birth to her son Raphaël in September 1993. However, in the next year, she appeared in the other two films in Kieślowski's trilogy, Three Colours: White (1994) and Three Colours: Red (1994).

juliette binoche
With Olivier Martinez in The Horseman on the Roof (1995)

Juliette Binoche returned to the film industry with a bang in the big-budget film The Horseman on the Roof (1995), directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, whom she had turned down during the prolonged shoot of Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. It was a box office success around the world and Juliette was again nominated for a César for Best Actress. However, her position as an international movie star was reinforced by her performance in The English Patient (1996), in which she played the role of Hana, a French Canadian nurse stationed in Italy during World War II. The film was a worldwide hit and won nine Academy Awards, including the Best Supporting Actress Award for Juliette Binoche, making her the second French actress to win an Oscar.

juliette binoche
In The English Patient (1996)

In La veuve de Saint-Pierre (The Window of Saint-Pierre 2000), a period drama, completely filmed on the island of the same name, Juliette appeared in the role of a woman who tries to save a condemned man from the guillotine. She earned a nomination for a César for Best Actress for her performance in the role, while the film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. In the same year, she also starred as the leading lady in the successful romantic comedy Chocolat (2000), opposite Johnny Depp, to win the European Film Audience Award, apart from being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role and a BAFTA. Her other films during the 2000s include the thriller Caché (Hidden 2005), Bee Season (2005), Breaking and Entering (2006), Dan in Real Life (2007) and L’Heure d’été (Summer Hours 2008).

juliette binoche
In Breaking and Entering (2006)
juliette binoche
In Certified Copy (2010)

Juliette won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for portraying her role in Certified Copy (2010), directed by Abbas Kiarostami of Iran, creating the record as the first actress to win the Triple Crown of Best Actress Awards at the Berlin, Cannes, and Venice film festivals. During the 2010s, she also appeared in several other films, including David Cronenberg’s thriller Cosmopolis (2012), in which she appeared in a supporting role as a New York art dealer, played the leading role in Bruno Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915 (2013), recounting three days of the 30 years that the French artist spent in a mental asylum though she had not been diagnosed with any malady, Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), written especially for her with elements parallel to her life and played the role of a scientist, responsible for creating the ghost in the shell in Ghost in the Shell (2017).

juliette binoche
In Paris (2008)
juliette binoche
In Let the Sunshine In (2017)

In her personal life, Juliette Binoche is a very private person. Four men wanted to marry her, but she refused to be boxed in and famously, never married, although she has a son and a daughter, born out of wedlock. Raphael, her son, was born to André Halle, a professional scuba diver on 2 September 1993, while the father of her daughter Hana, born on 16 December 1999, is Benoît Magimel, who played opposite her in Children of the Century (1999). She is infamously secretive about her private life, but it is rumoured that she was in significant relationships with Santiago Amigorena, her director in A Few Days in September (2006).

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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