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BERLIN 2019 Berlinale Special Gala

Juliette Binoche • Actress

“There is a freedom that comes with age, especially in front of the camera”

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- BERLIN 2019: We met up with French superstar Juliette Binoche to discuss her latest two roles – in Who You Think I Am and as the Jury President at the 2019 Berlinale

Juliette Binoche  • Actress
(© Fred Meylan)

Juliette Binoche is pulling double duty at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, in town both as the Jury President and the main protagonist of Safy Nebbou’s Who You Think I Am [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Juliette Binoche
film profile
]
, based on the novel of the same name by Camille Laurens. Presented as part of the Berlinale Special Gala, it sees her play a fifty-something divorcee called Claire, who begins an online love affair with the much younger Alex. But the problem is that Claire is using a fake profile, and her lies start to catch up with her.

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Cineuropa: Claire is a successful professor; she has nice children and a proper career. What makes her suddenly pretend to be 20 years old?
Juliette Binoche:
 The way I understood it, the feeling of abandonment is so unbearable for her. She has been abandoned by her husband for a younger woman, abandoned by her lover, who doesn’t really care about her. She is trying to find a way not to feel that – holding onto something that doesn’t work any more. 

Facebook is one of the means she is using, but it gets to the point where she has to destroy the illusion. It’s painful to realise that you are a loser, but it gives her renewed strength. She is not afraid any more – she reaches a place where she is opening up to new things and is able to move on. This feeling of abandonment is just so horrific. We feel it very early on as kids, but to feel it again as an adult… It’s interesting that she is quite sophisticated and advanced as an intellectual, but not so much emotionally. Throughout the film, you see her grow as an emotional being.

She hides behind texts and messages. But expressing emotions in this way is not exactly safer, is it?
It seems safe, but this film shows you that it’s not; it’s an illusion. Physicality is something that can confirm feelings – the body needs to be involved. And because it doesn’t really go there, it’s more dangerous, in a way. You are trapped in that illusion. Still, somehow she believes that Alex is going to recognise her and that true love will find a way [laughs].

Yet somehow it’s still a film that doesn’t shy away from showing female sexuality, even though others probably think she is not supposed to feel this way any more.
My father is 85 years old, and he still flirts with all the nurses! It never goes away. The need for desire is always there, but it’s your choice how you express it. Over time, you may learn to live with it in a different way – a better way, if you’re lucky. You are not dependent on it like you were when you were 20 years old. Claire forgets herself for a while, but if you want to experience real emotions, you mustn’t be afraid of humiliation. 

So when approaching a relationship, should one be prepared to let go?
Or to allow it to be nothing, which isn’t easy. When you are growing emotionally, it feels like you are dying. And you are – there is a part of you that dies in order to reach that deeper layer. Age can be a wonderful tool for that. We are always blaming age and fearing it, but it’s age that brings you serenity, and I really believe that. There is a freedom that comes with age, especially in front of the camera. It brings out the truth of what you are experiencing as a human being. That’s why this role was joyful for me because life is about learning, and you learn when you are young and when you are old. Working on a film can sometimes help you to understand things about yourself, too.

Is that something you will be looking for as the Jury President?
It’s more about what feels important to give to the world. That’s the power we have – to focus on specific themes. Berlinale chooses political films that have very contemporary subjects, ones that make us think and grow as a society. We need to hear diverse voices, and I believe that we will have more and more female directors at festivals. They are already proving their artistry and capacity, but Dieter [Kosslick, the festival’s outgoing director] said to me: “I didn’t choose these films because they were made by women; I chose them because they were good.”

Claire is a complicated character because she lies all the time: to her lover, to her therapist, played by Nicole Garcia, and even to herself. As an experienced actor, do you think you already know what makes people tick?
Playing a role is not about telling lies; it’s about telling the truth. But my character tries to avoid it, so it’s a game of hide-and-seek. As an actor, you are so used to analysing emotions; you know where to go in order to express or recreate life – a bit like a pianist who knows where D minor is. That’s part of my craft.

I don’t feel the need to look back at my career – I am not made like that. But I always listen to my inner voice and try to be in touch with something that tells me that this is important and there is something that I need to explore, even when I don’t know what that might be. When it’s a purely intellectual choice, it becomes too calculated, somehow. In the end, your career is like a jigsaw puzzle: you are holding one piece, thinking, “Where do I put it now?”

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