Tag Archives: Juliette Binoche

Let The Sunshine In

Juliette Binoche is extraordinary, really. Behind those gorgeous, liquid brown eyes, there’s a bit of a mystery. There’s a natural sensuality to her, but under the direction of Claire Denis, that turns into a raw eroticism, and Denis knows just how to turn that up.

Isabelle has many lovers but no loves. And maybe she’d like one, a true love, a forever love, but the truth is, she can barely manage the one night stands. She’s exceptionally MV5BNWJhY2UwOTEtMjMzYi00MjBkLWEwNDgtY2QzYmVkNzllNDQzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk1Njg5NTA@._V1_bad at choosing men. They’re all unavailable. Her best effort is a married man who’s bad in bed AND rude to waiters. Nothing going for him! He’s not even cute! And he’ll never be hers. So why then is she so hurt when he continues to never leave his wife, as promised? Why does she cry over men who don’t deserve it? She’s a beautiful woman, a tender, open artist. Everyone is entitled to one bad boyfriend. But a string of them starts to look like a pattern, and you’re the one picking the wallpaper. So what the hell is wrong with Isabelle?

She cries at night, every night. She’s miserable. She’s suspicious of men. She moves too quickly and is even quicker to anger. She’s ricocheting between men, wracking up a score, but she never wins the prize. As much as I can dislike Isabelle, Binoche gives her a vulnerability that is hard to hate entirely. She tries too hard, she wants it too much. She’s so desperate she goes to see a psychic (Gerard Depardieu) for advice. And she’s the type who wants so badly to believe him. Her tears guide him into saying exactly what she wants to hear. We all have that friend who just keeps screwing up her love life – we can see it coming a mile away, so why can’t she, an otherwise intelligent woman? Isabelle is that woman and Claire Denis knows her intimately.

 

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TIFF18: High Life

The interesting thing about High Life is the negative space – it’s all the stuff it cleverly carves out. At some point in the future, Earth is sending young, death-row convicts to outer space to “serve science” by allowing their bodies to be experimented upon. What kind of Earth is this? We never see it. What kind of crimes are we talking about? We’re never told.

Monte (Robert Pattinson) is one such prisoner. The film’s first scene shows him alone on a space craft save for a baby – his daughter? Cut to: an undisclosed time before, when he is just one of many prisoners under the scrutiny of Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche). Ostensibly they’re gathering information on black holes, but there’s also fertility experimentation being done – and what we know and they don’t is they’re never coming back from this mission. They were never meant to.

The male prisoners masturbate alone in a ‘fuck room’ and Dr. Dibs then fertilizes the female prisoners, which makes for near-constant space miscarriages. She herself A45FC0CD-D445-49D6-8783-5FC5F4E28DBA-thumb-860xauto-72637enjoys a solitary go at the fuck room, riding a contraption reminiscent of Burn After Reading’s dildo chair. She enjoys a little solo S&M, her white skin framed by the black walls, the room feeling as dark and blank as the space outside, though rarely glimpsed, must also be.

There’s a lot of silence in space; so too in Claire Denis’s High Life. It’s disorienting and confusing and filled me with dread. In contrast to Interstellar or Gravity or The Martian, High Life has very little in the way of special effects, and actually doesn’t bother much with what’s outside the walls of their ship. If you’re a fan of Claire Denis, don’t worry, she’s as inaccessible as ever – bleak, subversive, full of fleeting, nightmarish impressions.

There’s a lot of ritual in this movie but no purity – Claire Denis puts bodies through hell. Body horror? Sort of. A horrific degradation of bodies. Of consent. Of dignity. In Monte we find a different kind of prisoner, and a stubborn will to persist. There’s a special kind of stress, and madness, to be found in the voids but always Denis refers back to what these 9 represent: humanity? What does their treatment mean for the humans back on Earth, and how does it feel to be utterly forgotten and abandoned by society?

 

 

Clouds of Sils Maria

To be honest, I watched this movie some time ago, it’s just that writing about it in any meaningful way was a little daunting.

It’s about an actress, Maria (the fabulous Juliette Binoche), who has had a CLOUDS OF SILS MARIAlauded career after being launched in the theatre playing Sigrid, a sizzling ingénue. Now, years later, the playwright and her mentor has died, and there’s interest in re-staging the play, and Maria is approached to star. The catch? This time she’d of course be playing the role of the older woman, Helena, in a complicated May-December lesbian office unrequited romance (whoa, that’s a mouthful).

Should Maria take the role? Initially she declines. She finds the older character to be a bit pathetic, too much of a doormat. But the director is tenacious and Maria is not exactly afraid of a challenging role, so she accepts. She retreats to a remote chalet with her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart) and they begin rehearsing the play, only in the rehearsing, Maria again grapples with her distaste for the weakness of the character, and must face her own feelings about aging.

Chloe Grace Moretz floats in as the scandal-prone Hollywood It Girl who is to play the younger woman. She flatters Maria with fandom but ultimately plays the role much differently than Maria did, which further drives Maria to feel obsolete, and to wonder if this older character is perhaps an uncomfortable reflection of herself.

Clouds-of-Sils-Maria-14I didn’t find the story-telling in this movie to be quite satisfactory, but the performances were top-notch. There’s an intense, almost sexual chemistry between Binoche and Stewart that makes their rehearsals a rare treat to watch. Not often are two such strong female characters allowed to shine on the screen together with such naked feeling.

Binoche loved the idea of this movie so much that she approached director Olivier Assayas with it and convinced him to write the script as well. In a funny meta twist, Assayas co-wrote the script of Rendez-Vous, which was the film that helped make Binoche a star. Binoche claims she strove for such authenticity that she accepted a brief role in Godzilla just so she could o-CLOUDS-OF-SILS-facebookbelievably deliver a line about acting in blockbusters.

Chanel (the fashion house) stepped in not only with wardrobe but with financing so that Assayas could film in 35mm. The movie does in fact look totally gorgeous, not least because it’s filmed on location in Sils Maria, Switzerland. And Binoche reins over this film with stately grace, simmering jealousy, raging insecurity – every bit of it layered and nuanced to perfection. Maria is dealing with a changing industry and a role that requires alarming introspection, but what Binoche and company accomplish is to make us ask ourselves – are we Sigrids, or are we Helenas?

Just off the Top of O-Ren Ishii’s Head: 10 Death Scenes I Will Never Forget

I’m not really a Final Destination kind of guy but with stock dwindling at my favourite video store just two weeks before it closes, I settled on a movie that my friend had been trying to get me to watch for months. Final Destination 2- so far left on the shelves by eager shoppers looking to take advantage of the store’s Everything Must Go policy- has a death scene that apparently I just had to watch.

Watching the movie, I couldn’t be sure which scene she meant. There were a lot. Could it be the lottery winner who slipped on some spaghetti and got his head smashed in by a falling fire escape? Or the grieving mother who was decaptiated when she got her head caught in an elevator door? Turns out I should have been watching for the teenager who was crushed to death by something- what exactly I can’t be sure, things happen fast in this movie- while chasing away some pigeons. Apparently, if you watch closely, he explodes long before anything falls on him. How does she know? She’s watched it in slow motion. Several times.

final destination

While I may not have even been temptedc to check the tape on that one, it got me thinking of my favourite on-screen passings. After all, we just saw some real beauts in Mad Max: Fury Road on Friday. Here’s my attempt at a Top Ten. I left out a lot out, I know. How about you? What are some of your favourite scenes that I might have missed?

10. Count Laszlo de Almásy  The English Patient (1996)

English Patient

One of the movies that I am most likely to meditate on the finality of death after watching. Once we’re gone, everything we’ve felt, everything we’ve feared, everything we’ve loved die with us. It’s painful to watch Ralph Fiennes suffer from his burns throughout the movie and when Juliette Binoche’s Hana agrees to help him end his agony once and for all, I could almost feel his last breath. Even though, technically, the scene ends before Laszlo does. Before this act of mercy, Hana reads him this.

“We die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have entered and swum up like rivers, fears we’ve hidden in like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. We’re the real counttries. Not the boundaries drawn on maps, the names of powerful men”.

9. Phil Groundhog Day (1993)

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Condemned to live a bad day over and over until he gets it right, Phil (Bill Murray) uses this opportunity to try new things without having to wake up with any consequences. He makes a move on the girl he likes and punches the guy he doesn’t. He runs around town playing hero. He even gives dying a try. His suicidal phase is one of the funniest and darkest parts of the movie. (I haven’t seen the movie in awhile so I can’t remember if it’s made clear to us whether Phil is counting on waking up the next morning or hoping not to).

Before my favourite of said suicide “attempts”, Phil calmly walks into the lobby ignoring the pleasantries of the hotel staff and steals their toaster. Phil calmly prepares himself a nice hot bath and takes the toaster in with him. This scene would also make my list of Top Ten Reasons I Love Bill Murray.

8. Captain Frye The Rock (1996)

the rock

Ed Harris’ General Hummell is a madman but he really does think he’s doing the right thing. It’s the mercenaries he brings with him to sieze Alcatraz Island that make me nervous, especially Captain Frye. Played with his usual sneer by character actor Gregory Sporleder, there’s just something not quite right about this guy. He always seems to be wishing he was pushing an old lady down a flight of stairs.

A lot of these guys die for their cause in spectacular fashion but director Michael Bay saves the best for last when chemistry geek/action hero Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) shoves a vial of sarin gas in his mouth and smashes it with his fist. Neither Bay or Cage have gotten much right since but they did good here. This guy had it coming.

7. Sydney Barringer Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia

P. T. Anderson gets our attention right from the start and manages to hold it for Magnolia’s entire three-hour running time. Seventeen year-old Sydney Barringer jumps from the roof of his nine-story apartment building only to have his suicide attempt interrupted both by a safety net installed by some window washers and by a shotgun blast from a sixth floor window that killed him instantly. His unsuccessful suicide became a successful homicide when his own mother accidentally fired a shot while threatening his father during a heated argument.

Anderson didn’t come up with this story on his own. It’s an adaptation of a sort of urban legend that had been circulating for years but it sets up the strange events that follow perfectly.

6. Guy in elevator Drive (2011)

Drive

Ryan Gosling is a charmer. He swept Rachel McAdams off her feet both on and off screen and even taught Steve Carrell how to be a smooth talker. Just don’t get on his bad side. This guy’s not fucking around. He understands the golden rule of action movies. When someone’s giving you trouble, sometimes you’ve just got to stomp on their face until they’re dead. He doesn’t carry a gun much in Drive but why would he? He’s got his boot.

5. Edward Bloom Big Fish (2003)

Big Fish

The deathbed scene in The English Patient inspires me to meditate on death. Big Fish inspires me to reflect on life. Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) finally understands the value of myth and the key to good storytelling while seeing his father (Albert Finney) through his final moments. For most of his adult life, Will stubbornly told stories with “all of the facts, none of the flavour” but, when his father asks him to tell him “how he goes”, Will ad-libs a fantastical story fit for Ed’s remarkable life- one that undoubtedly touched so many others, even if the details are a little embellished. I still get chills when I watch it.

4. Cecilia Shepard Zodiac (2007)

zodiac

I feel crass talking about an on-screen depiction of something that actually happened in the same post as the twisted thrills of Drive but there aren’t many scenes in 21st century American film that are more effective. All the recreations of the Zodiac killings in this movie are almost impossible to watch without some temptation to look away but this one at the beach is the most chilling. I felt a wave of anxiety every time I found myself anywhere secluded for weeks after watching this movie. The Zodiac killer was never caught or named but this faceless killer- now probably long gone- still haunts me.

3. Elle Driver Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

kill bill

I only allowed myself one Quentin Tarantino entry on this post and I could have easily done one just on the Top Ten Tarantino Death Scenes. He’s the guy that knows how to do it, whose mind seems to take him to to places most of us wouldn’t dare. Daryl Hannah’s Elle puts up quite a fight against the Bride but the fight’s pretty much over when Uma Thurman’s antihero plucks out her only good eye. Adding insult to injury beyond anything I can imagine, poor Elle hears a sound that can only be Uma crushing it beneath her feet. Good and pissed but with nothing much she can do about it, Elle thrashes about unitl a poisonous Black Mamba finishes her off.

Elle Driver was an assassin and a bit of a sadist but I can’t help but feel just a little bad. What a way to go.

2. Spider Goodfellas (1990)

spider

Everyone has a favourite scene here and I could have probably done a Top Ten just on this one movie but Spider (Michael Imperioli) really gets a raw deal. After finally being able to get back to work after being shot in the foot by Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), the poor waiter finally stands up for himself and tells Tommy to fuck off. Tommy’s gangster buddy love it and tease Tommy until he loses it and empties his clip into the poor guy, shocking his buddies. “What the fuck, Tommy?goodfellas We were just kidding around”.

Tommy’s a funny guy (yes, sort of like a clown) and I sure did miss him after he gets whacked. But he really was a mad dog. It’s probably for the best that he never got made.

1. Lester Burnham American Beauty (1999)

american beauty

This also made my list of Movie Moments That Took My Breath Away. Lester makes it very clear from the start that he won’t survive the movie and the final moments are filled with tension as we wait for something to happen. Writer Alan Ball presents us with three suspects and we’re not sure until after the killing shot is fired who murdered Lester Burnham.

The murder is beside the point anyway. The tragedy is that Lester dies in pretty much the instant that he finds inner peace. His life flashes before his eyes as he reflects on all the beauty  in the world. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry. You will someday”.

Caché

Here’s a film that couldn’t be more different from the teen comedies that I’ve enjoyed watching all week. I’ve been hard at work catching up on all the movies I missed to prepare for Wandering Through the Shelves’ Thursday challenge but I took a break from all the dick jokes to rewatch one of my favourite movies from 2005 (one of my favourite years). Last week’s challenge got me thinking about The Piano Teacher and the films of German filmmaker Michael Haneke.

While I admire the technique and honesty of The Piano Teacher and Haneke’s more recent and Oscar-winning Amour, watching them can feel like chores due to the former’s unpleasantness cacheand the latter’s sleepy pacing. Here, though, is a movie that I can honestly say that I enjoy watching. Even though he’s asking tough questions about class, reality, and deception, he is generous enough to structure Caché like a thriller. It begins with Georges and Anne (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) watching and discussing a videotape that was inexplicably left at their front door. The video is simply a two-hour wide shot of their beautiful Paris home. It might just be a prank by one of their teenage son’s friends but, still, it’s pretty creepy. Somebody seems to be trying to show them that they’re under surveillance. Well, the tapes keep coming and the footage starts hitting closer and closer to home and it starts wreaking havoc on Georges and Anne’s seemingly happy home.

cache 2One of the things that make Haneke’s films so unsettling is he’s not fond of easy answers and there’s always a lot I still want to know when they’re over. The mystery of who’s sending these tapes and why kept me riveted from start to finish but is never fully explained. As I always do when I’m afraid I might be missing something, I ran to the DVD bonus features looking for answers and it turns out the director is as vague in interviews as he is in his writing. He said that he likes to leave things open to interpretation because reality is.

Fair enough. When I invest so much time in a whodunnit, I like to know who dun it but Caché still gives us a lot to be thankful for. Haneke’s examination of a marriage full of secrets is made even more compelling by the performances from the two leads and, unlike most Marvel movies, viewers who stay through the credits will be rewarded.