The late, great film critic Roger Ebert once said that Juliette Binoche is an actress who evokes the quality of simply existing. This may seem like a simple statement; however, thinking on it further will begin to reveal the complexity of acting in pursuit of reflecting life. It’s true; Binoche has a cool, natural presence that is totally captivating. And her search for human truth through the many roles she’s played is impressive, when you look at her career as a whole. So, let’s do just that.
Binoche’s acting career began in French cinema, but it didn’t take long before she became known around the world for her performance in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988). If you’re not familiar with this title, maybe you’ve seen her in the The English Patient (1996), where her role as a WWII nurse won her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress; and the film itself received the coveted Academy Award for Best Picture. I, however, first got a taste of her talent in the Hollywood hit Chocolat (2000), where Binoche stars opposite Johnny Depp – the movie poster exclaims it’s sinfully delicious! Oh my!
If you haven’t seen any of the above movies, I do recommend seeking them out. However, there is much more to Juliette Binoche’s career than Hollywood hits. Throughout the years, Binoche has established herself as an icon of art house cinema, where filmmakers tell provocative stories with unique and daring visions. These art house films are the perfect vehicles to showcase Juliette’s abilities as an actress. Below, I’ve compiled some of my favorites – films that will provoke you or make you feel something. These are stories worth pondering and discussing long after the credits have rolled; some of which have changed my life or, at least, the way I look at it.
Three Colors: Blue (1993)
This film is my favorite because I have never seen a film before that captures what emotions and thoughts might look like, if they escaped and manifested as light and sound.
Blue follows the story of Julie, a woman who has suffered an extreme tragedy, leaving her with an empty heart and a life she struggles to find meaning within. Her emotions of grief manifest as streaks of blue light and explosions of orchestral sound, speaking to multiple senses. Truth and meaning begin to reveal themselves in the little details: a sugar cube absorbing dark coffee, tears of sorrow hidden in a swimming pool, a mother mouse and her babies tucked away in a closet… I’ll leave it to you to discover these small moments within the context of Blue. You’ll enjoy this movie, if you’re ready to go on a contemplative and emotional journey complete with striking visuals and a mesmerizing performance by Juliette Binoche. It will be absolutely worth your while.
This film is my favorite because it takes the popular psychological thriller genre and hides deep emotion and themes within its structure.
The word caché translates to hidden in English, a fitting title for a film about a family who finds themselves mysteriously under surveillance. After receiving a tape in the mail documenting the front of their home and their comings and goings, a couple and their son try to continue their day to day lives, to no avail. Juliette Binoche shines as the wife and mother, bringing a comforting humanity to this horrific situation. This film confronts our complex relationships with race and class, as well as the things we choose to remember or forget. When silent truths come back to haunt us, how do we choose to process them? Caché is an intelligent and engrossing thriller that’s a must watch for anyone who loves intense drama and a splash of violence.
Certified Copy (2010)
This film is my favorite because it portrays a mind-bending story about a relationship, framed by dynamic and layered imagery.
In the beginning, Certified Copy is a film portraying a budding connection between two strangers. Juliette Binoche plays an antique dealer who goes to see an admired author speak about his new novel Certified Copy. These characters appear to be drawn to one another, and the film then follows them through the rest of their day which is spent sipping cappuccino, strolling through cobbled streets, and selecting a nice red during dinner. As the day wears on, the plot starts to fold in upon itself, teasing impossible complexities in their relationship and questioning authenticity and reality itself. The film has a striking visual style; each shot is dense and layered with strong uses of framing, reflection, and depth of field. Ever wondered what it would be like if Chrisopher Nolan made a romantic drama? This would be close.
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
This film is my favorite because a watch leaves you breathless and searching.
Clouds of Sils Maria tells the story of international movie star and stage actress Maria (Juliette Binoche), as she prepares for a role in the modern reinterpretation of a play that launched her career. Maria’s days are spent running lines with the help of her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart), who also seems to be the only one that brings joy into her life. This film was actually written with Binoche in mind, and her personal experiences with fame and aging were incorporated into the movie which makes for a complex web of connections between real life stars Binoche and Stewart, their characters in the film, and the characters in the play. Come for Binoche’s elegant performance and stay for Stewart’s scene-stealing charm – enough charm to win her the César Award for Best Supporting Actress, the second American to ever do so!
Let the Sunshine In (2017)
This film is my favorite because it took the traditional Hollywood Rom-Com and made it messy, complex, and real.
Isabelle, a middle-aged divorcée played by Binoche, is looking for love in all the wrong places. Other rom-coms would make her situation into a laugh, but Sunshine doubles down and makes each situation feel all too real. A nasty banker, complicated actor, and her ex-husband are among the men circling her life. For me, the most impressive aspect of the film is the dialogue. Conversations start and stop, tangent, and stutter in such a natural way that they stand out. They are almost hyperreal. But what kept me engrossed to the end was my desire to see Isabelle figure her shit out. Just like real life, nothing is ever perfect – however, if one stays open to the possibilities, we may be surprised by what comes our way.
Whether it be in an argument, a kiss, or a look, Juliette Binoche is an actress who embodies truth. I hope you find something thought provoking or stimulating within Juliette Binoche’s body of work. You can view these films via the streaming services below:
Where to stream the films:
The Unbearable Lightness of Being \ Rent
Chocolat \ HBO GO
The English Patient \ Showtime
Three Colors Blue \ Criterion Chanel
Caché \ Criterion Chanel
Certified Copy \ Criterion Chanel
Clouds of Sils Maria \ Netflix & Criterion Chanel
Let the Sunshine In \ Hulu
What is this Criterion Channel?
If you found any of these films enjoyable, I highly recommend checking out the Criterion Channel, a streaming platform that focuses on important classic and contemporary films. Criterion also produces exclusive, physical editions that are jam-packed with essays, interviews, and other supplementary features. They are worth your time and money, if you enjoy diving deeper into the creation and interpretation of films.