ARTS / With one eye on stardom: Show People: 40. Juliette Binoche

THERE used to be an air of sweet innocence about Juliette Binoche. When she appeared in Leos Carax's The Night is Young (1986) she was a sleep-walking waif, afraid of open spaces. She had attached herself to Michel Piccoli, an ageing hood, because he could afford her protection from the outside world; and she did not so much resist the love of the young safe-cracker, Denis Lavant, as sidestep it with a tremulous innocence.

In their long, night-time heart-to- hearts, Carax dwells upon her lovely face well past the point at which the viewer's wonder gives way to embarrassment. There are times when she hardly knows where to look for shame, and her eyes become misted. Her acting here had an openness which owed more to life than performance, and brought to mind Godard's use of his wife, Anna Karina, staring her down with the camera until discomfort became an emotional truth.

Binoche had made seven French movies before that, but it was Philip Kaufman's film of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) that presented her to a larger world. Everyone remembers the lady in the bowler hat. But it was Binoche who represented the awakening of political and emotional maturity of the Czech middle classes in that film. She was the frumpy little barmaid who conceives a passion for Daniel Day- Lewis, a womanising brain surgeon.

He is examining her for a cold, and when he asks her to open wide, she fastens her gaping mouth on to his and jumps him with all the awkward fervour of a convent girl finally letting loose. She is happy with the existence of his bowler- hatted mistress, with whom she shares a talent for photography, but the naked photo session that gets going between them is the sexier for Binoche's reticence.

Now all of that is about to change. No more Miss Nice Girl. In Leos Carax's latest film, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, she is seen dashing along a shore line, towing Denis Lavant through the surf by a sensitive organ. And it isn't his nose. It is a moment of great Dionysiac release after the general squalor of their lives back in Paris. One just hopes for his sake it didn't need 25 takes.

They are a pair of down and outs who doss down on the Pont-Neuf each night. She, a middle-class painter, is already blind in one eye, with the other eye fading fast. The determination with which she keeps on painting shows us a new, tough side to Binoche.

The production notoriously ran into money problems. They had acquired permission to close the Pont-Neuf for August, when Paris is traditionally empty. But Lavant injured his wrist, and the delay meant that the bridge had to be recreated near Montpellier. Then a second lot of producers stepped in. 'It was very painful to have to keep stopping. It almost felt like three different films,' Binoche says. 'It just wasn't fair. But when you believe in something in your heart, you know you will finish it.' Fighting talk from this gauche girl who has a habit of blowing her fringe off her forehead when she thinks you aren't looking.

All of Carax's films alternate between good scenes of bravura action or strong emotion and stretches of appalling pretension which tire your patience. But there is one scene in the film which everyone will remember long after the embarrassments are forgotten. It is Bastille Day, when the French go mad with fireworks. Lavant steals a motor boat and tows Binoche down the Seine on waterskis, with the fireworks dancing on the water beside her. It is a breathtaking jeu d'esprit, not least because instead of mocking something up in the studio, he filmed it in situ, in one take, without a stuntwoman. A lot could have gone wrong, and all of it dangerous. 'I learnt to waterski especially in Florida. But that was nice and warm,' Binoche says. 'This time it was November and seven degrees below zero. The Seine was too narrow for any slaloming, so I was right in the boat's wash. And wearing the eye-patch, it was very hard to keep your balance.'

She was born in 1964 to a father who is a theatre director and sculptor, and a mother who was an actress. When they divorced she was sent to boarding schools around France, which taught her independence and the proper realisation that Paris is not the centre of the world. She first aspired to being a painter, preferring the privacy of that art to the public display of acting. The movies may have claimed her, but she keeps up the painting; she did the movie's attractive poster with brush and chinese ink.

She is speaking the kind of perfect English which only foreigners seem to achieve these days. She can even manage the dental 'th' which usually defeats ze French. This is just as well, because she has recently completed Wuthering Heights, playing Cathy opposite Ralph Fiennes's Heathcliff. She is also in Louis Malle's forthcoming Damage, taken from Josephine Hart's novel about a politician (Jeremy Irons) who conceives an obsessive passion for his son's girlfriend.

However these turn out, I will always treasure her for that vision of a spirited girl, roaring down the Seine through gaudy cataracts of fire.

'Les Amants du Pont-Neuf' (18) opens at the Lumiere (071-836 0691) on 11 Sept.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor