The Naked truth

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"I didn't think you liked me," stammered Juliette Binoche accepting her Bafta for The English Patient, but at the moment it seems as if British audiences can't get enough of the Gallic actress. After the resounding success of Binoche's stage debut in the Almeida's Naked (pronounced "magnifique" by Tony Blair), Cine Lumiere has wisely decided on a retrospective of some of her finest films.

Born to "poor but intellectual" parents, Binoche watched the evenements of 1968 from the shoulders of her theatre-director father, and began acting, she says, "at the age of four". Soon after, her parents split, and Binoche went off to school, where she developed her passion for performance. At 18, she won a place at the Conservatoire, but found her fellow students cliquey and immature.

Binoche abandoned her training after only a year. She took a job as a supermarket check-out girl, and began making art-house movies, winning her first breakthrough with Andre Tachine's 1985 film, Rendez-Vous (13 Jul, 7.30pm). An affair with Leos Carax, the bete noire of French cinema, followed, leading to Binoche's casting in the moodily romantic futuristic thriller Mauvais Sang (9 Jul, 7.30pm).

Still, it wasn't until she wrapped her legs around Daniel Day Lewis in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (4 Jul 7.30pm) that Binoche's blistering combination of vulnerable beauty and powerful eroticism really reached an international audience.

Instead of capitalising on her triumph, Binoche spent the next three years toiling away on Carax's 1991 film Les Amants du Pont Neuf (11 Jul, 7.30pm). A heady mixture of passion and pretension, the film features Binoche as a middle-class artist who takes to the streets when her sight begins to fail, and embarks on an anarchic affair with a homeless fire-eater.

By now, Binoche was a big enough name to apply herself to cracking the English-language market in earnest. Her projects seemed promising - Wuthering Heights with Ralph Fiennes, and a steamy story of amour fou called Damage, with Jeremy Irons (20 Jul, 7.30pm) - but both proved disastrous. Binoche's strongly-accented Cathy in Wuthering Heights drew withering reviews. And then there was Damage, in which Binoche plays an enigmatic young French auctioneer who has an affair with her boyfriend's father, Irons. The aptly- named film was greeted with derision, and described by one critic as "A lot of sulking and staring. An incredible amount of frenzied bonking."

Binoche retreated to lick her wounds with the Polish director Kieslowski in the most melancholy segment of his "Three Colours" trilogy, Trois Couleurs Bleu (24 Jul, 7.30pm). As a woman who lacks the courage to commit suicide when her husband and child are killed in a car crash, the film showed Binoche at her best: strong and stubborn in the face of disaster, her luminous grief hinting at inscrutable depths of emotion.

The handsome but hollow Horseman on the Roof (15 Jul, 7.30pm) followed, with Binoche as an aristocrat searching for her husband in cholera-ridden France; and her suffering continued in Anthony Minghella's The English Patient (22 Jul, 7.30pm), where she plays a nurse who believes everyone she loves will die.

"Usually the people I play have been shaken," Binoche says. "Something has broken down, but something good is coming out of it. That is what I am interested in." Binoche has had little time for the Hollywood studios. Indeed, she has the rare distinction of having turned down Spielberg three times, while being one of the few European actresses to win an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress for The English Patient).

As Tony might put it, "Vive La Binoche".

The `Binoche' season is at Cine Lumiere, South Kensington, SW7 (0171-838 2144) 2-24 Jul

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