Binoche’s recipe for a reunion

The Taste Of Things brings France’s celebrity couple together again

by Richard Mowe

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'
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
It wasn’t an obvious dream ticket to pair Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel together for costume film The Taste Of Things, which is set in the world of gastronomy. Although they share a daughter (Hana, 24) they hadn’t had much contact since they split up some two decades previously. The last time they had worked together was on the romantic drama Children Of The Century in 1999.

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'
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
The actress who has worked with the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Leos Carax, Louis Malle, Philip Kaufman, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Abel Ferrara, Lasse Hallström and Michaël Haneke, came on board early on. She had met Hùng when he was visiting Chinese-born Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien on the set of The Flight Of The Red Balloon, also starring Binoche. They agreed to work together at some point in the future and when the project materialised she signed on immediately.

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'
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
Before filming started on The Taste of Things there was little time for Binoche to hone her culinary skills. “I came the day before we started the shoot and was given some pointers by Hùng. There was no chance of becoming an apprentice chef or anything like that. We had to jump in immediately,” she recalled. Michelin-starred master chef Pierre Gagnaire was enlisted to prepare the food before filming so there were no fake dishes on set.

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.
The New Look on Apple TV+ stars, from left, Juliette Binoche, Maisie Williams. Ben Mendelsohn and John Malkovich. Photo: Apple TV+
How did Hùng feel about reuniting these two estranged talents of French cinema in Bouffant’s rustic kitchen? “I immediately thought of Juliette. Benoît later. Juliette has unbelievable presence. Once she appears, everything becomes real, interesting, moving. Since she is a modern, committed woman in real life, she brings to the character an interior strength that makes her resistance to Dodin’s desires all the more palpable. She may not be aware of it, but when she was with us, discipline improved on set. And to be honest, the film would never have been made without her help. She remained committed to the project through thick and thin.

“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.

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