GOOD: THREE COLOURS BLUE
Quick: name an Oscar-winning actress who’s worked with both Godard AND Godzilla. THERE IS ONLY ONE. Having been on international screens for three decades, Juliette Binoche has matured more gracefully than a vintage Bourdeaux, acquired more ripe notes than a cave-aged Gruyère. Take a look at the whole career from the dewy, sexualized ingénue of DAMAGE to the earthy middle-aged diva of SILS MARIA, and it is clear: JB is the Actress of Actresses.
She’s bared both her flesh and her soul for countless auteurs, but she’s perhaps never been asked to carry a film quite so completely as she did for Krzystof Kieslowski in THREE COLOURS: BLUE. As a grieving widow thrown into a traumatised “liberté” that she never asked for, Binoche’s performance is mostly silent, often as cold as the film’s azure cinematography and as deeply felt as Zbigniew Preisner’s extraordinary score. Her Julie (like the continent of Europe itself) must confront the submerged pains of the past as she is hurtled forward into an uncertain future. That’s right: Juliette Binoche IS Europe. She is Cinema. She is Everything.
Sometimes a brown, gooey substance is sweet, delicious, even spiritual. But sometimes it’s actually just…. All the cacao in an ancient Mayan temple could not flavour this cynical, derivative Miramax joint from 2000 which somehow received five Oscar nominations, including BEST PICTURE??! Harvey Weinstein’s committed a lot of crimes, but aesthetically this one takes the fudge-filled (sludge-filled?) cake.
Juliette is a mystical stranger who arrives in a fairytale French village - where everyone, even the French actors, somehow speak in English!! She’s got a daughter who sees imaginary kangaroos, some bon bons that can apparently change your sex life, and a spinning pagan disc that hypnotises everyone she meets into joining her cult… er, enjoying the pleasures of chocolate. Judi Dench slowly destroys her diabetic pancreas through constant truffle-eating, Johnny Depp listlessly invokes both the hairstyle and the accent of Bono, and Alfred Molina has nothing better to do during Lent than to lead a boycott against Juliette and her life-giving chocolate shop. THAT IS SERIOUSLY THE PLOT. Cynical, saccharine and soporific, CHOCOLAT is a film without sweetness and very definitely the worst viewing experience we’ve had so far.
CRAZY: MAUVAIS SANG
it’s 1986 and a sexually-transmitted retrovirus is killing off young people. A massive pharma company have a vaccine in development that they won’t release, until a band of misfits break in to liberate it… Sound familiar? It is and it isn’t. The sophomore feature from French enfant terrible Leos Carax is a heady, swoony, futuristic Nouvelle Nouvelle Vague oddity, for which (Carax’s then-girlfriend) Binoche garnered her first César nomination. The real star is the film’s ever-shifting aesthetic that encompasses cartoonish absurdism, music video, spectacle and lyricism in equal measure.
Alex (Denis Lavant) is a juvenile delinquent caught up in the vaccine heist but whose “amour fou” for the unavailable Anna (Binoche) has him completely pent up. You see, in this alternative future, anytime you “make love without love,” you risk death. This is a caper that is full of ideas, emotions and set-piece scenes (like Juliette herself - not a stunt woman! - dangling from an airplane!!!). If it left us scratching our heads at times, it also prompted reflections on the pure beauty of the moving image and the irrational risks we all take to achieve…. Modern Love.