At first sight, the film the French chose to represent them at the Oscars next year couldn’t be any more French. A chaste romantic drama starring Juliette Binoche as Eugénie, an unsung, genius-level private chef, The Taste of Things takes place in the kitchen at the sprawling rustic home of the famous restauranteur Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel), and features every culinary delight known to mankind. Food is braised, broiled, blanched, poached and sautéed, in carefully curated banquets that can take anything up to a waistline-busting 24 hours. Needless to say, audiences at the Cannes film festival savored every bite.
Binoche says she got the script simply because she knew the producer. But the reason she decided to make it was the director, Trần Anh Hùng, the Vietnamese-born auteur who first made his name with The Scent of Green Papaya in 1993.
“I knew Hùng a little bit because he came on set of a film I was shooting with Hou Hsiao-hsien, the Taiwanese director, called The Flight of the Red Balloon,” she says. “We chatted, and I liked him very much. I knew his films and I wanted to work with him because I like to have an ‘eastern’ feeling of life.” Which explains why, other than Hou, she’s also been working with Hirokazu Kore-eda, Nobuhira Suwa, and Naomi Kawase. “I like to have another point of view of our world,” she says, “and Hùng is one of these directors that has another pace. He sees things always from within, and that’s what I love about his work. It’s not only about the surface of things. He’s connected to what he’s filming in a special way, in a loving way.”
Though Eugénie cooks in industrial quantities, Binoche claims no boot camp was needed. “I didn’t have to prepare, in the sense that I’ve been cooking all my life,” she says. “Well, a good part of my life, because I have children and I like cooking. Having said that, I sometimes dislike it, because when it’s every day it becomes a duty. And sometimes I don’t have the patience.”
She does, however, think that cooking, at least in the movie, is fast becoming a lost art. “People tend nowadays to order their food from outside,” she notes. “They don’t have a relationship with what they’re eating. They buy food that is already cooked, and they don’t have a sense of what’s coming out of the planet, the generosity of what the earth is giving us. You plant something, you give it some light, a little water, and it comes to you. That’s amazing. And I think this film tells you about our relationship with the essence of life, which is our relationship with the earth and what we make of it. It’s also about how precious it is to have the time we spend cooking. It’s precious to cook for others. It’s not about buying things — it’s about creating, doing, making things for others.”
Aside from Hùng, another big draw for this project was the chance to reunite with her ex, Magimel. “There was something joyful about it and very emotional,” she says, “because I was acting with Benoît, who’s my daughter’s father, and we hadn’t worked together since we did Les enfants du siècle which was nearly 25 years before. I was a little nervous about working with him again because we hadn’t seen each other that much, and there hadn’t been a lot of words or conversation since.
“So, the fact of being able to make a film together and speak to each other through Hùng’s writing, and expressing our emotions through the emotions that we had to go through in the film, was a wonderful tool, in a way, to…” She pauses. “Well, for me, anyway, to reconcile, and say to him, ‘I love you no matter what happened.’”
Binoche will turn 60 next year, and she’s packed an incredible amount into nearly 40 years of acting. She’s worked with legends and rising stars alike, and it’s hard to find a film on her filmography where her impeccable taste has failed her.
“Well, I’m not thinking about taste when I’m choosing the project,” she says. “I’m just choosing the person I want to spend time with, in an artful situation.”
“Sometimes I say yes to a film because I love the films the director’s been doing,” she adds, “but sometimes it’s because I want to take a risk with that film. I don’t know what the result will be, but I want to take the risk because I like the subject. Sometimes you just use your intuition. You have to dare your intuition, because otherwise, if you’re mentally calculating the yes or the no of your choices, you can be disappointed at the end, because it has to come from the heart. Because then you never regret anything.
“But if you’re being cynical, then you might have regrets, because then you’ll think, ‘Oh, I should have thought of this, I should have thought of that.’ Sometimes I might start a project thinking, ‘Oh, I love this movie!’ and then at the end I’ll say, ‘Well… shit, it’s not exactly what I thought it was going to be!’ It’s part of the game of life.” She laughs. “Sometimes you make mistakes, and sometimes it works. Thanks to luck, fate, whatever you want to call it, it works.”
Given her tendency to put her heart and soul into a movie, has she ever gone too far? “No,” she says firmly. “I’m not thinking about that. I’ve felt sometimes that it went so far that I’m amazed I survived it, but I always knew that we’d captured something. I might wobble at the end of it all. I might feel like, ‘Oh my god, it’s been so rough.’ But… regrets? That’s not in my vocabulary. I just learn when there’s a mistake. You learn from it, and you say, ‘OK.’ So, I don’t really live with regrets. I use them as wisdom at the end of the day.”
Some of that wisdom came from The Lovers on the Bridge, the film she made with Leos Carax. Released in 1991, it took two and a half years to make, with logistical issues ranging from serious onset accidents (co-star Denis Lavant injured his hand) to being dropped by its producers — twice. “It was endless,” she recalls, “but I learned to be willing to go until the end and have the faith to make it, no matter what. It was hard, but it taught me that you go till the end. But life is more important than anything. Meaning, I almost killed myself in one of the scenes. I almost drowned. That was a turning point, where I thought, ‘Art is wonderful, but life is more important than anything else.’”
The Lovers on the Bridge was savaged on release, but now, outside of France, it has become something of a cult movie and an inspiration to filmmakers who dabble in the lyrical and strange. Is that a vindication? “Yes, it is,” she says. “In France, it’s always been rejected, ever since when it came out, and even afterwards. Still, people talk about it in a kind of angry way, I would say, or a reproachful way, because of what they heard. So, in France, there’s a mix of admiration and jealousy. In other countries, there’s no jealousy. It’s like an ovni. How do you say that in English? It’s a UFO. It’s something different from what you usually see in the movie world. And our belief in it is what made it happen.”
One could argue that Binoche’s ascent into arthouse royalty began in 1993 with her starring role in Three Colors: Blue, for which she won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. Surprisingly, director Krzysztof Kieślowski very nearly didn’t give her the part.
“Actually, the first time I met with him, it was for The Double Life of Veronique ,” she recalls, “but because I was doing The Lovers on the Bridge, I was not available. He came back with Three Colors: Blue, and he said to me, ‘I think you’re too young for this part.’ So I said to him, ‘I don’t feel I’m too young.’ I sent him a picture of me that, actually, Louis Malle had seen a year or two before for Damage, because he felt I was too young as well. I showed Kieślowski the same picture, thinking, ‘Maybe he’ll see the same thing,’ and he did. He said yes to me, because he could see in my eyes that somehow I was ageless. You couldn’t define how old I was.”
Although Kieślowski is known for the intellectual rigor of his output, up until his death in 1996 aged 54, Binoche remembers nothing but good times on the Polish director’s set. “We worked very harmoniously,” she says. “We didn’t have a lot of time to make the movie, so he was very purposeful in a way of setting up the shots, because that’s the way he was working with his DoP. They were very quick in preparing. We would rehearse, because he liked rehearsing, and we would do one or two takes. I remember the shoot being really light, laughing with him and the crew. I was always asking for a second take, or a third take, which was hard to get. But if I fought hard enough, I could sometimes have another one.”
It’s hard to imagine the director of A Short Film About Killing laughing with his cast and crew, but Binoche insists his moods were never as grim as some of his subjects. “Oh, I didn’t see him like that at all,” she says. “No, it was never about discussing things. It was just about doing things. I don’t have that perception of him. He knew, in the storytelling, what was important to him and how he wanted to tell the story. He was very open, delightful, and absolutely charming.”
Surprisingly, Binoche has mostly resisted the siren call of Hollywood, even after her breakout in Philip Kaufman’s 1988 adaptation of Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, opposite Daniel Day-Lewis. Did she consider that a step towards Hollywood? “Not at all, because we shot it in Paris and Lyon. And so, to me, it was a very European film. I had no reference for what Hollywood meant. It was just an idea, and I had no idea what the system meant. I have a sense of it today, of course, because I understand the industry, the challenges, and how much money is involved. And how much the mindset is to conquer the world, to conquer money, to conquer the box office.”
“But at the time, I was not aware of it. I was only interested in telling the story with my tool, which is my body, mind and soul. I had no idea of the outside consequences, because I was not interested in that. I only knew, when I was reading the scripts that came from my American agent, whether or not I could relate to them. That was my only way to say yes or no: If it reached my heart, my mind, my enthusiasm, or my need for acting. That I knew. But as to the consequences of my choices? I had no idea.”
One script that came to her that way was Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient (1996), which brought her an Oscar. “It took me a while to read it,” she says. “And I remember Anthony teasing me about that. But reading in English at the time was not that easy. It took me a while. And when you’re busy in your life… I had a child, I was working quite a lot, and I was working with Lancôme, so I had a lot of engagements. But when I read it, I was very touched by his writing. They were very readable, his scripts, and the dialogues related to some inner place that I really enjoyed.”
Did she expect it to be such a big phenomenon? “No, I didn’t expect that at all. We knew it was a quite expensive film, but no, we had no way to know that it was going to be that much of a success.” And when awards season came around? “I had no idea. They just asked me, ‘Do you want to go here? Do you want to go there?’ And I said yes because I was happy to go for the journey. But I didn’t know how political it was. It was like a political campaign. I realized that years after, but, in the moment, I was just following Anthony and Caroline, his wife. I went all over the world, because I wanted to be part of the journey, but I didn’t understand the consequences of it all.”
Since then, Binoche has shown her lighter side, with a small but nevertheless surprisingly emotional role in Godzilla and a self-deprecating cameo as herself in French comedy series Call My Agent. But she will always be more famous for her work with such austere European masters such as Michael Haneke (notably Hidden, 2005) and Bruno Dumont, with whom she made Camille Claudel 1915 in 2013, about the mental collapse of Rodin’s sculptress lover.
It’s a harsh story, but, looking back, Binoche has surprisingly fond memories of it. “It was intense, definitely, because Claudel’s life was very intense,” she says. “To tell you the truth, for the first half of the film, I was really frightened about playing her. Waking up in the middle of the night, sweating. The second half of the film, I felt like she was with me.”
Indeed, two weeks after the shoot, Binoche did a play in the Picardy region, not far from Claudel’s family home (“The place where, in her letters, she would say, ‘Take me back, take me back.’ And she was never taken back”). So, Binoche reached out to Claudel’s nephew and asked if she could visit. “He made it happen, and it was the most powerful experience I’ve ever had,” she says. “I could touch the furniture she lived with as a young adult, with her parents. There was a pastel drawing of her sister she had made that was just beautiful, and some of her sculptures were also in the garden.”
The memory still haunts her.
“Beyond the film itself, there’s always a story,” she says. “Something that nourishes your soul and validates your reasons for making it.”
The post Juliette Binoche Continues Her Quest For Spiritual Nourishment With Trần Anh Hùng’s French Foodie Drama ‘The Taste Of Things’: “Regrets? That’s Not In My Vocabulary” appeared first on Deadline.