has cast her as Hana, the Canadian nurse whose care for a dying stranger during the last days of World War II becomes the means for healing her own emotional wounds.
‘When you’ve been through a lot of pain, something that has healed inside you, you don’t feel this pain in the same way,’ says the 33-year-old actress. ‘You learn how to detach yourself from pain. Maybe you’re more into life, you’re more into joy. There’s an innocence in Hana and, at the same time, she’s very down to earth. She knows what she wants to do, she’s strong in that way. In this film, the war is a pretext. I mean, it’s not about war, it’s about people, how they deal with pain, with violence. It’s about questions.‘
Like her character, Binoche has in recent years moved on and is clearly more confident as an actress. Her Oscar nomination and recent Best Actress Award at the Berlin Film Festival for The English Patient have catapulted her from homeland and arthouse fame into an international spotlight. Now, on top American television chat shows, she ﬂirts and makes double entendres in English while the male interviewers virtually drool over their desks. But she has not always been so decisive about the path of her career.
Born in Paris in 1964, Binoche was sent to boarding school at the age of four following the divorce of her parents, sculptor Jean-Marie and stage actress Monique. ‘If you have trouble when you’re a child,’ she said a few years ago, echoing her views on the character of Hana, ‘that cures you for the rest of your life. I used to be a lonely girl when l was a child. I think my job is one of the best ways to know more about life. people and human relations. It’s about giving or not, about listening to our most intimate voice. Acting is a way to survive.’
To realise her dream, she studied at the Paris Conservatoire. appearing mainly on stage until Jean-Luc Godard found a part for her in 1984’s scandalous updating of the Nativity, Je Vous Sa/ue, Marie. Three years later, she met director Leos Carax on the set of Mauvais Sang, and began a five-year affair that carried through the troubled shooting of Les Amants Du Pont Neuf. Although the film was halted on several occasions as money dried up. Binoche stayed true to her director- lover and turned down other roles for the three-year period she now refers to as a ‘black hole’.
After splitting from Carax. she had a son. Raphael. in I993. but to this day refuses to name the father. This was also the year that she starred in Blue, the first part of Kieslowski’s magnificent Three Colours trilogy, winning the Best Actress Award at the Venice Film Festival and the Césars (the French Oscars). Acclaimed as more than just a pretty face, she then appeared in the sweeping period epic The Horseman On The Roof. Her screen relationship with Olivier Martinez in that film has since spilled over into real life.
Throughout all of this. Binoche also developed a much more volatile career acting in English. Her debut, 1987’s The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, was universally applauded. but three projects after that brought only derision. In Damage, her enigmatic image becomes an unappealing.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT
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Window to Hollywood: The English Patient has put Binoche on an international stage
cold sexuality; in the romantic comedy A Couch In New York (which closed last year‘s Edinburgh Film Festival), her pairing with William Hurt lacks chemistry: and in Wuthering Heights. the slightest deviation from Cathy’s Yorkshire accent sent British critics snarling like a pack of dogs. ‘The only thing I regret.’ she says of that disaster, ‘is that my lack of experience with English didn’t allow me to forget that l was shooting in a foreign language.‘
The response to her performance in The English Patient could not be more different. Granted, Hana’s Canadian roots allow for a Gallic colouring to her vowels, but it’s clear that Binoche no longer has to worry about the words themselves and can dive deeper into the
'If you have trouble when you're a child, that cures you for the rest of your life. I used to be a lonely girl when I was a child.’
emotions of the character. The film also allows her to team up again with Ralph Fiennes, who played Heathcliff to her Cathy five years ago. ‘Actually, I felt that this was the first time,’ she says of their scenes together in The English Patient. ‘I said that to Ralph. because we didn’t really meet on the first film. But this time. we met. And sometimes we would roar together. because I would say. “I know you’re hidden, English patient, you’re not Heathcliff. Come up. I know you’re here, under the make- up”.’ Those layers of make-up that Fiennes had to wear as the victim of severe burns didn’t
hinder their acting. ‘l was connected to his eyes and his spirit.’ Binoche explains. ‘That was the relationship we had. and the physical thing was concentrated to make it real and true.‘
She plans next to work on a period biopic about 18th century French heroine Julie de Lespinasse, and has been seen having talks with Harrison Ford about co-starring in a Hollywood comedy called Six Days And Seven Nights. Can she break into Hollywood? Well, it’s already rumoured that she turned down Jurassic Park for Three Colours: Blue and was beaten by Michelle Pfeiffer to the role opposite Jack Nicholson in Wolf.
However, if she does go Stateside, she’ll have to put behind her a lingering reputation of being ‘difficult’. Last year, she was fired by Claude Berri after two weeks of shooting Lucie Aubrac, when her own research into the life of the World War ll resistance fighter clashed with the director’s vision of the script.
Nevertheless, her response on French television only hours after the announcement of her Oscar nomination does reveal an actress growing into another stage of maturity. ‘lt’s a dream,’ she smiled. ‘These awards are like being back at school. The reality is your work — you’re in front of a camera, you give your best. That’s what counts. It’s important to leave your ego in the dressing room when you’re working.’
The English Patient goes on general release on Fri 14 Mar.
7—20 Mar 1997 THE LIST?