SPOTLIGHT July, 2024: JULIETTE BINOCHE, Actor and European Film Academy President!

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When French actress Juliette Binoche took to the stage at the opening of the 77th annual Cannes Film Festival this year, she didn’t do so as an actress starring in a competition film, as she has many times in the past, nor to receive an award, as she did in 2010 for Best Actress. Instead, she was there in her new role as President of the European Film Academy (EFA) to present Meryl Streep with the festival’s Honorary Palme d’Or. In a nod to Binoche, Streep said, “The only reason I’m here tonight is because of the wonderful artists I’ve worked with, including Madame President.” Just two months after turning 60, Binoche stepped in as Agnieszka Holland’s successor at the EFA in early May. She also follows in the footsteps of the organization’s other illustrious presidents, Wim Wenders (1996-2020) and Ingmar Bergman (1989-1996).

The EFA was founded in 1989 to “advance the interests of the European film industry.” It boasts more than 4,600 members today and presents the annual European Film Awards, a glittery, Oscars-style affair that hops between host cities each year to celebrate the best of moviemaking on the continent. As the first non-director in the role of EFA president, the globally recognized and respected Binoche would seem an astute, if not glamorous, choice for an industry looking to promote itself. She’s also a timely selection to succeed feminist filmmaker Holland in an era where #metoo allegations of sexual harassment continue to rock the film industry in France and elsewhere.

Since she got her start in 1983, Binoche has worked with male and female directors alike, on majority-male and majority-female casts, in the US and in Europe. Here, AWFJ reflects on her 40-plus-year career.

FROM PARIS TO THE WORLD

Binoche was born in Paris to parents immersed in the arts themselves. She began studying acting but quit. It didn’t take long, however, for her to land her first on-screen acting roles anyway, before she even turned 20, and she began to make a name for herself in France with appearances in films from high-profile directors like Jean-Luc Godard and André Téchiné. Her turn as a young actress in Téchiné’s Rendez-vous attracted attention at Cannes, where it won best director in 1985, and earned her a first César Award nomination.

Still from RENDEZ-VOUS

She came to international attention soon after, starring in 1988 in her first English-language role opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, based on the Milan Kundera novel. She was in high demand in the 1990s, appearing in Louis Malle’s Damage with Jeremy Irons and Wuthering Heights opposite Ralph Fiennes, then Krzysztof Kieslowski’s first entry in his Three Colours trilogy, Blue.

But it was Anthony Minghella’s epic The English Patient in 1996 which led her to true global stardom, earning her a best supporting actress Oscar, one of nine Oscars the film won. It was a major international success, supported by recognition from critics’ organizations. She followed that up with, among other films, Lasse Hallström’s Chocolat opposite Johnny Depp, sexy rom com Jet Lag with Jean Reno, John Boorman’s In My Country with Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Haneke’s Caché.

Still from THE ENGISH PATIENT

In the last decade or so, Binoche has continued the pace. She earned the Best Actress award at Cannes in 2010 for her turn in Abbas Kiarostami’s Italy-set romance, Certified Copy, has played both Camille Claudel and Coco Chanel, and co-starred in recent years in multiplex fare like Godzilla.

She continues to take on roles in both the US and Europe, and in films that could be characterized as commercial fare as well as more arthouse forays like Claire Denis’ High Life opposite Robert Pattinson, Olivier Assayas’ The Clouds of Sils Maria with Kirsten Stewart, and Anh Hung Tran’s The Taste of Things with her ex-partner Benoit Magimel (an on-screen reunion that got a lot of press). She has also worked regularly in theater throughout her career.


Still from CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

All told, she has been recognized with two Oscars, six European Film Awards (including the honorary Achievement in World Cinema Award in 2019) and top prizes from most of the world’s major international film festivals. What’s more, Binoche is widely respected and, by all accounts, well-liked in the industry, no small feat for someone who has seemingly worked with just about everyone.

WHY WE CHOSE HER

At Cannes, when Binoche presented Streep with the honorary Palme d’Or, the American actress reflected: “When I was in Cannes 35 years ago, for the first time, I was already a mother of three. I was approaching 40 and I thought my career was over. At the time, for an actress, that was a reasonable prediction.” Binoche, like Streep, is proving that prediction wrong and demonstrating that women have many roles to play – on and off screen – well past 40. With her new official position at the European Film Academy, nearly 100 films to her credit, dozens of international awards and as many acting jobs as ever, Binoche at 60 remains at the top of her game. Congratulations, Madame President! — Jennifer Green

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Jennifer Green

Jennifer Green is a regular contributor to Common Sense Media, The Hollywood Reporter, The Seattle Times and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was Screen International's correspondent in Spain for ten years. She launched the newspaper column and website Films from Afar to curate international films available for home streaming. She has served on film festival juries across Spain and North Africa and teaches journalism and film to university students.