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The Orange County Register
The Orange County Register
Peter Larsen

Juliette Binoche describes working with director Claire Denis again on ‘Both Sides Of The Blade’

In the new French film “Both Sides of the Blade,” Juliette Binoche plays Sara, a Parisian public radio host who’s lived happily with her partner Jean for the decade since her former lover Francois broke things off with her.

Then one morning as she arrives to work, she sees Francois (Gregoire Colin) on the street and is overwhelmed with a rush of emotions for what they’d had, and perhaps the sense that she’s not felt those same things as much with Jean (Vincent Lindon).

In director Claire Denis’ film, Sara is torn between two lovers whose need to possess her completely makes her position even more untenable. It’s a place, Binoche says on a recent call, that she’d experienced years earlier in her real life.

“I’ve been in a situation like that a long time ago in my 20s,” says Binoche, 58. “And that was very painful, almost unbearable.

“The dilemma, it felt terribly wrong and painful, and I didn’t know how to deal with it,” she says. “So to go back to that theme, I found it interesting, even though, you know, some years have passed.”

“Both Sides of the Blade” arrived last week after a festival run that earned Denis the Silver Bear for best director at the Berlin International Film Festival. (Binoche also returns to theaters on July 29 opposite Morgan Freeman in the American thriller “Paradise Highway.")

In a career that includes acclaimed performances in films such as “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “Blue,” “Chocolat,” and an Oscar-winning turn in “The English Patient,” Binoche has become known for the raw honesty and emotional vulnerability of her work.

That openness also surfaced throughout the interview that follows, which was edited for length and clarity.

Q: What attracted you to the character of Sara and the screenplay?

A: Well, I said yes to the project before I read the script. Because I had done two films with Claire Denis, and also because I knew the screenwriter Christine Angot (whose book the film is based on), so I felt like the combination was a comfortable one.

When I read the script, I was enthusiastic. I thought it reminded me a little bit of the Bergman kind of situation – that is, very emotional and very conflictual. And I love Bergman, I have to say, because it really goes inside of human conditions and love conditions.

Q: Films seem to typically put men in the middle of the romantic triangle, with him choosing between two lovers, rather than a woman. I’m wondering if it felt that way to you.

A: You’ve seen more films than I did probably, but I made more films than you. I don’t know. So I cannot answer your question. I just know that it’s a very real thing that women can go through, and I’ve been through it quite a while ago. I remember it as being as dangerous as it is.

Q: In the film, a lot of emotions are communicated nonverbally, through a glance or an expression passing over someone’s face. I’m curious how you do that when other films might rely upon dialogue instead.

A: Well, for me, acting is always coming from the inside, no matter what kind of film you’re doing. That’s the deal as human beings. We go from a feeling. And dialogue is not coming out of your head, it’s coming out of your entire body and soul and guts and heart and mind.

The actor’s skill or technique is to find the link with those words that you’re reading into something that is sweating, that is beating, that is walking, that is feeling, that is moving inside.

That’s why I’m still passionate about acting. It requires an awareness and to go into the unconscious of the character as you might yourself. And to throw yourself with all the knowledge you can have into your work, trusting that the director will take the best take and edit the best moment. And that’s not always the case.

That’s the journey you’re going through as an actor. You have to give your heart and soul and everything you can. And at the end, you’re just praying that it’s going to be taken care of.

Q: Some of the intensity of the film seems to result from the way it was shot: The camera is very close to the actors in many moments, whether it’s a love scene or an argument. What’s that like from the actor’s side for you?

A: A decision to make very early on as an actor is to acquiescer, to give yourself to the camera and give your humanity to the audience to see and hear and feel.

When you decide that early on, it opens up your heart so it doesn’t feel like you have to be put in danger in order to give yourself. It’s not a bad danger, it’s just a place that you don’t control. And that’s why the trust with the director is so important, because if you’re giving yourself that much, you have to have people to take care of you afterwards.

You cannot control things, I think. And I don’t mean that it’s easy each time, because who doesn’t want to control things, who doesn’t want to feel safe? But I think it’s worth trying when you’re giving yourself 100%.

That’s where I feel proud, but in the best way, which is not vanity. Pride is what enhances you, you know, what’s lifted inside of you. That you’ve given something special and you can feel OK about it.

Q: You mentioned this is the third film you’ve made with Claire Denis. What makes her someone you’ve wanted to work with repeatedly over the last couple of years?

A: It’s just that I think my experience with ‘Let The Sunshine In’ and ‘High Life’ have been very happy experiences. I love observing her, observing how she works, you know, choosing her shots. And I feel the love and trust from her.

I wouldn’t say she directs me, she just trusts me is the best way to put it.

Q: One thing that struck me about the film is that it’s one of the first I’ve seen that just portrays the pandemic as an incidental fact in the background of the story. What was it like making it against that backdrop?

A: You know it’s amazing how human beings, we adapt to each other with different situations. So, of course, it was odd. And now that I’m still shooting in a period that is low in COVID, but still is going on, it feels better now. Because at the time they were really putting those things in the nose pretty seriously and it was painful, and now it’s becoming more human in that way.

We, as actors, didn’t have the masks because when you’re made up and you have all the hair and all that. So we were the only ones to have no masks.

But I was happy that Claire put it into the story because that’s what we were going through at the time. So life is related to, is linked with, the film.


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