Tout Sweet

Oh, you are spoiling us, Ms Binoche!

James Mottram discovers that if there was ever a movie to make your mouth water, it’s Juliette Binoche’s new film Chocolat

From Film Review April 2001

"I’m making my own choices. I don’t let anybody do it for me,” says Juliette Binoche, with a typical note of defiance in her voice. “I’m acting from here,” she says, pointing to her heart. “I’m making choices from here. I’m making choices because it’s risky. It hauls me out of myself.”

This, of course, is the 36-year-old French actress, who won a Best Supporting Oscar for The English Patient. Best known for a series of demanding and tragic performances in some of Europe’s finest films over the past decade – most quintessentially the newly widowed composer in Three Colours: Blue – don’t expect Binoche to start making popcorn movies. In fact her latest film, director Lasse Hallström’s sweet Chocolat, is about as close as she’s likely to get.

Film Review meets the French star to discuss the film in a hotel in midtown Manhattan, just a few blocks from where Binoche is on stage opposite Liev Schrieber in a version of Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal. Wearing a red dress, trimmed with a maroon bow, Binoche cuts a prim business-like figure. In the film, she plays the equally stylish Vianne, an independently-minded single mother who arrives in a sleepy, provincial French town with her daughter to open up a confectionery store, stirring up long-since dormant passions in the local residents. Co-starring Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hallström’s wife, Lena Olin, Binoche calls the film “a fairy tale”. With Johnny Depp, who plays an Irish river dweller, featuring as her love interest, it’s little wonder she uses the phrase.

It also afforded Juliette the chance to conduct some rather pleasurable research, as she visited a Parisian Master of Chocolate who gave her a crash-course in his art. “What was one of the most amazing things, was that he made me try different cocoa chocolate from different continents. I tried the Venezuelan one, which for me was the best one because it was so fruity. It’s like a smell in way. There are so many layers. I tried the African one, which was very spicy; there was something very earthy about the cocoa. I was just amazed to see how you can travel through different countries.”

With Chocolat partly shot in England, it prompted thoughts in Binoche’s mind of a less pleasant time working here. Back in 1990, when she shot Wuthering Heights, where she was entirely miscast as Cathy, back-to-back with the erotic drama Damage, Binoche was not so happy. “Ten years ago, when I worked in London, I felt the energy was low and down. People were quite negative. When you would ask something, it would be a negative answer. I was hurt by it. I felt there was no way I would stay in London.”

Fortunately, a stint starring in Pirandello’s Naked at Islington’s Almeida theatre two years ago brought her back to Britain, easing her stay this time around. “On Chocolat, we went to Salisbury, where I shot Damage, and Shepperton studios, where I also shot Damage. And I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going back to the ghosts!’ Actually, it went very well. Sometimes in life things are not easy, and it changes you.”

Chocolat opens on March 2 and is distributed by Buena Vista. Les Enfants du Siècle, starring Binoche as 19th-Century author George Sand, is released on April 6 and distributed by Film Four.

Image copyright: Buena Vista
Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction.

Film Review Feb 2001 issueMore from Juliette Binoche in this issue, plus James Mottram's review of CHOCOLAT

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