ARTISTICALLY, Juliette Binoche has never been afraid to roll the dice although it has been many years since she took on a really edgy film role. The Academy Award-winning French actor, best known internationally for her breakthrough in The Unbearable Lightness of Being , The English Patient and the sweetness of Chocolat has spent the past decade taking mostly safe roles in French dramas: she may work with provocative director Michael Heneke, for example, but as the quietly tormented middle-class matron in Hidden , rather than the musician driven to insanity and perversity by sexual repression in The Piano Teacher ( Isabelle Huppert took on that role).
That’s not to say Binoche’s acting is ever less than impeccable: nuanced, watchful, humorous or triste as required. Think of her unforgettable performance in Krysztof Kieslowski’s poetic Three Colours: Blue ( 1993), as a woman who turns away from life after her child and husband are killed. Yet, in her more recent films, perhaps La Binoche had become too comfortable as the international belle of French cinema.
Then a couple of years ago she unexpectedly entered into a risky collaboration with acclaimed British dancer and choreographer Akram Khan. The result, In-I , is described as a synthesis of movement and storytelling in which the two performers plumb the emotional depths of love. It is coming to the Sydney Opera House next week.
At the same time, Binoche makes an appearance during the French Film Festival ( opening in Sydney on March 4, then other capital cities) in Olivier Assayas’s drama Summer Hours — the FFF is almost unthinkable without at least one role from Binoche. Meanwhile, the State Library of NSW is showcasing yet another of her creative endeavours, Portraits In-Eyes : her book of painted portraits of film directors she has worked with, and of herself in character.
Dance, though, has taken Binoche into a new, highly physical realm, and allowed Khan — the acclaimed London-born Bangladeshi who melds Western contemporary dance and the Indian classical Kathak style — to explore another facet of performance.
It all began with a massage, says Binoche. She is speaking by phone from Leicester, bang in the middle of England and amid the heaviest snowfalls for decades. She has just finished another gruelling workout, stretching, leaping and preparing her 44-year-old muscles for her performance that night.
‘‘ I was in London shooting a movie, and my masseuse asked me if I wanted to dance, and I said yes without having any idea why she would ask me that, or what sort of consequence it would have,’’ she says with a laugh.
( Off screen and off stage, Binoche is known for