Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel in The Taste Of Things. Binoche on working with her former real-life partner: 'There were shared emotions, and we found again the happiness of just being together' Photo: Stephanie Branchu
The French-Vietnamese director Trần Anh Hùng who won the Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d’Or for his first feature The Scent of the Green Papya in 1993, decided to risk it for his adaptation of Marcel Rouff’s novel La Vie et la Passion de Dodin Bouffant.
Binoche was a natural fit for the freedom-loving Eugénie who has shared a long history of gastronomy and romance with Dodin but, to his chagrin, refuses to marry him.
Juliette Binoche on director Trần Anh Hùng: 'The way he stays fixed on one image allows us time to see and feel' Photo: Richard Mowe
She admits, now though, that she was apprehensive about co-starring with her ex-partner Magimel in an on-screen relationship that was bound to provoke awkward personal questions about their own occasionally tempestuous private life.
In the event it all worked out. Binoche, 59, who turns up for interview fighting off a grippe (a cold) and wearing what looks like a designer boiler suit, pronounces that their past history “brings an added fragility” to the relationship portrayed. “I sensed that cooking could bring us together,” she says mischievously as a minder brings in an oil-filled radiator to take the chill off the room. “There were shared emotions, and we found again the happiness of just being together.” For his part Magimel has said he had no qualms about working again with his ex-lover and the experience provided a certain “healing” ingredient.
Unlike Magimel who apparently loves to cook, Binoche’s culinary experience is more utilitarian. “If I follow the recipe books then usually I can produce something edible,” she suggests modestly. “But I am not at the level of haute cuisine. I am not at the stage of creating and inventing new dishes. You need the time to cook - and also to go shopping for all the ingredients. I still insist on doing my own food shopping despite the fact that my life is crazy and I seem to go from one project to the next.”
She is relishing her current down-time even though it’s occupied by promotional activity for The Taste of Things, a failed contender in France’s Oscar stakes. Once she had finished filming she dived into the ten-part series The New Look for Apple TV+, set in the aftermath of the Second World War, in which she plays Coco Chanel. The fashion designer was deemed a Nazi collaborator and worked with the Vichy regime. The role had painful resonances for Binoche whose Polish maternal grandparents survived Auschwitz.
Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel as Dodin and Eugénie in The Taste Of Things. Binoche: 'In Hùng's cinema there are also the silences which you must also respect' Photo: Stephanie Branchu
Although Binoche loves to improvise she respected the carefully calibrate script. “In Hùng's cinema there are also the silences which you must also respect. There is no point in adding words where there is a silence. The camera is like a paintbrush for Hùng, almost like calligraphy. The way he stays fixed on one image allows us time to see and feel. I wanted to work with him because I like to have an ‘Eastern’ feeling of life.”
The New Look on Apple TV+ stars, from left, Juliette Binoche, Maisie Williams. Ben Mendelsohn and John Malkovich. Photo: Apple TV+
“Benoît came later, in the nick of time. He was a great stroke of luck. He is the most relaxed, amusing actor I’ve ever worked with. He has a great talent for relaxing and letting go. He is easy to work with. We occasionally reworked dialogues when he didn’t feel comfortable with a line. I’d rewrite it a few minutes before filming, and we were off. Bringing them together again after more than 20 years of not working together was something unique.”
Richard Mowe talked to Juliette Binoche at the 26th UniFrance Rendezvous with French Cinema in Paris.
The Taste of Things is on release in cinemas from 14 February. The New Look is on Apple TV+ from 14 February.