Posts Tagged ‘Juliette Binoche’

The cast of “Call My Agent!”

“CALL MY AGENT!” My rating: B  (Netflix)

“Call My Agent!” unfolds in a Paris agency representing the cream of French film and television talent.

The gimmick of this French comedy series is that every episode features a guest star, a real-life legend — we’re talking Juliette Binoche, Christopher Lambert, Sigourney Weaver, Jean Dujarden, Isabelle Huppert, Jean Reno —  playing spoiled, temperamental, insecure, misbehaving versions of themselves.

But the real subject of Fanny Herrero’s 24-episode (over four seasons) creation is lying.

The ever-scrambling agents who populate the ASK offices are forever lying to their clients, to their loved ones and to each other.  It’s a requirement of the job, rarely done in malice, and often to protect the fragile feelings of the pampered stars to whom they owe their livings.

But be assured that no lie — no matter how creative or outrageous — remains unexposed for long.

Here’s the thing: despite their problematic relationship with the truth, the characters here quickly win us over.  Herrero and her co-creators have given us personalities that we quickly glom onto. They’re witty and driven and creative, and it’s a thrill to be around them.

Moreover, the series does a terrific job of exploring these different personalities over four seasons. Characters who at first seem mere background figures will at some point emerge as the center of their own episodes and story arcs.

There are too many interesting figures here to explore them all, but here’s a thumbnail analysis of the most important:

Andrea Martel (played by Camille Cottin):  This cutthroat agent and predatory lesbian has to re-evalute her existence when she finds herself pregnant after an impetuous three-way.

Mathias Barneville (Thibault de Montalembert): The head of ASK is sauve and cultured.  Except that in the first episode he gets an unexpected complication — the arrival of Camille (Fanny Sidney), the twenty-something lovechild of his long-ago extramarital affair.  He gives his daughter a job (she’s the most principled person on site) but struggles to keep his wife ignorant of his infidelity.

Ariette Azemar (Liliane Rovere):  The grande dame of the outfit, who’s seen and heard just about everything.  She’s constantly accompanied by her lapdog Jean Gabin (and if you appreciate that bit of name dropping, you’ll love just about everything about this series). (more…)

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Catherine Deneuve

“THE TRUTH” My rating: B

106 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

The character played by Catherine Deneuve in “The Truth” is reprehensible.

Except that she’s played by Catherine Deneuve, which means her reprehensibleness is actually kind of awesome.

In the latest from  Hirokazu Koreeda (a Japanese director making a French movie…talk about cross-cultural pollination) Deneuve plays Fabienne Dangeville, a great beauty of the French cinema who, now well ensconced in her 70s, has just published a memoir called “La Verite” (“the Truth”).

Fabienne has been a star for so long, has spent so much of her life being fawned over, that she has an iron-clad if overinflated sense of her own wonderfulness.  She expects people to cater to her every whim, and has a wickedly sharp tongue with which she lacerates friend and foe alike.

Imagine a Maggie Smith character coupled with world-class sex appeal.

Koreeda’s screenplay follows Fabienne on two fronts.  Professionally she’s taken a supporting role on a low-budget science fiction film starring young actress Manon Lenoir (Manon Clavel), who’s being touted as the next Fabienne Dangeville. You can imagine Fabienne’s dim view of that assertion.

On a personal level, Fabienne is dealing with a visit from her semi-estranged daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche), a New York-based screenwriter who’s returned to her childhood home with her actor husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and their precocious bilingual daughter Charlotte (Clementine Grenier).

When little Charlotte exclaims that Grandma’s house looks like a castle, Lumir glumly notes, “Yes, and there’s a prison just behind it.”  True.  The family manse abuts a maximum security facility, and it’s pretty obvious that in Lumir’s mind the two properties are interchangeable.


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Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne

“NON-FICTION” My rating: 

108 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Non-Fiction” is populated by intellectuals conversing about literature, books, the internet, blogs versus real news and the changing cultural landscape in our electronic world.

All that endless talkiness could be off-putting, except that these characters are French, which means that in addition to being smart and clever and wonderfully jaded, they’re also having affairs all over the place. Nothing like illicit sex to take your mind off the depredations of social media.

“Non-Fiction” was written and directed by Olivier Assayas, whose most recent efforts — “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper” — were weighty personality studies dabbling in fate and the supernatural.

But this is comedy — or at least what passes for comedy in French highbrow circles. Which is to say that nobody should expect belly laughs.  A whimsical smirk, maybe.

The tone is set in the first scene in which the schlubby writer Leonard (Vincent Macaigne) visits his editor and publisher, Alain (Guillaume Canet). They chat about how the reading public for “serious” novels like Leonard’s is dwindling (“Writing makes people hysterical”) and debate the value of Twitter (“People sharing witticisms…it’s very French…Tweets are modern-day haikus”).

The two men are old acquaintances who can joke about the projects that flopped (“We didn’t kill many trees”). Over lunch they muse aloud about whether real books will be supplanted by electronic delivery systems.

Eventually, as they are parting, Alain announces that his firm won’t be publishing Leonard’s latest manuscript. Leonard, he says, is out of phase with the times.

Next we meet Alain’s wife Selena (Assayas regular Juliette Binoche), an actress starring in a TV police show. She is noncommittal about her husband’s rejection of Leonard’s latest novel. Actually she’s not at all ambivalent, having been Leonard’s secret lover for  years.


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Jessie Ross, Robert Pattinson

“HIGH LIFE” My rating: C

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Claire Denis’ “High Life” takes place almost exclusively on a spaceship millions of miles from Earth and heading toward a black hole.

Those expecting a high-tech geek out should curb their expectations. This is outer space on a limited budget.

The interior of the ship resembles nothing so much as a suburban office park fallen on hard times; even the computers seem early 2000s.  We get only a couple of glimpses of the craft from the outside, and it looks like box.  Once in a very rare while a character pulls on a space suit, but mostly they wander around in red/orange prison-type jumpsuits.

Which is only fitting, since they are all condemned criminals — though we don’t learn that until later on (“High Life” is maddeningly reluctant to give up its secrets…most of the characters don’t even have names). Apparently these travelers were given a chance to leave prison and go on an intergalactic adventure.

As the film begins Monte (Robert Pattinson) is sharing the craft with a baby girl he calls Willow.  The rest of the crew are MIA (at one point he jettisons a few corpses) and Monte has his hands full feeding an infant (there’s a misty greenhouse on board that grows food) and fixing the ship’s systems as they fail. To the extent possible under the circumstances he’s a good father — cuddling and talking to the baby.

The film then flashes back to earlier in the voyage.  Monte and a half dozen other inmates take their orders from Dibs (Juliette Binoche), a lab-coated doctor who is, in a very real sense, a mad scientist.  We never do learn what the mission is about, but Dibs has highjacked it for her own science project.  She seems to have been driven mad by her inability to conceive, and she’s hatching a plot to breed her minions, who spend much of their time drugged into complacency.

Oh, yeah,  there’s also a pleasure room onboard where the residents can go for mechanically-stimulated sexual release. Romantic it isn’t.


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Juliette Binoche


94 minutes | No MPAA rating

Movies about privileged people who can’t stop moaning about their boring, unfulfilled lives generally give me a throbbing keister ache.

Claire Denis’ “Let the Sunshine In” is the exception, a profile of unhappiness delivered with such care, insight and actorly magnificence that you can forgive the self-absorption exhibited by most of the characters.

We stick with the ironically titled “…Sunshine…” because it’s an almost perfect vehicle for Juliette Binoche, one of France’s greatest actresses, here at the peak of her powers.

A confession: I’ve always admired Binoche’s thespian skills, but have long been perplexed by her status as a great beauty.  I  never saw it…until now. The older Binoche gets, the sexier she becomes. Go figure.

Here she plays Isabelle, a middle-aged artist (abstract expressionism, naturally) who in the wake of a divorce has been cast upon emotional and sexual shoals. Denis’ screenplay (written with Christine Angot) follows Isabelle’s ever-rebounding relationships with a half dozen men, none of whom seem capable of providing what she wants.

Of course, Isabelle may not know what she wants. There’s more than a little neurotic neediness in Binoche’s performance…after a while you may come to the conclusion her unmistakeable neediness is a big part of the problem. (Even her clothing sends weird messages…she’s big on mini-skirts, go-go boots and plunging necklines that have a hookerish feel.)

As the film starts she’s breaking off her affair with Vincent (Xavier Beauvoir), a burly banker who bitches about his dull world of commerce and finds her artistic endeavors quite erotic. “You charm the pants off me,” he says, though it’s likely he’d lose the trousers whether Isabelle  was charming or not. Problem is, Vincent can’t help exhibiting the alpha-male assholery that is key to his profession.


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the 33 20053“THE 33” My rating: B-

120 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The rescue in 2010 of 33 Chilean miners — buried alive for 69 days after the collapse of a gold and copper mine — is a story guaranteed to nurture hope and raise the spirits.

In fact, you’d have to be a stone not to be moved by a tale this dramatic.

And “The 33” does a pretty decent job of laying out a complicated yarn and seasoning it

with dramatic moments as it twists and turns toward an uplifting conclusion.

But it’s far from a great movie. The four-person screenwriting team and director Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”) struggle to get their arms around so many characters, so many plot threads. The film has no central character, and its dramatic impact is diffused.

Nevertheless, it does the job because we know that as unlikely as it seems, it’s a true tale.

We are introduced to the working stiffs at the San Jose Mine at a weekend party. One of the guys is an Elvis impersonator. Another is a graybeard preparing for retirement.

There’s a young husband whose wife is expecting their first baby. A lothario who openly juggles both a spouse and a mistress.

Of course our eyes are drawn to Mario (Antonio Banderas), a husband and father who oozes charisma and leadership.

The work gang foreman, Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips), is charged with ensuring the safety of his crews but keeps getting the runaround from superiors who don’t want to sink any more money into a 100-year-old mine that’s almost played out.

There is, of course, a new kid (Tenoch Huerta), a Bolivian who gets teased by his Chilean co-workers. (After they’re buried alive, the men grimly joke that he’ll be the first consumed, since “Bolivians taste like chicken.”)

And we shouldn’t forget the hopeless alcoholic (Juan Pablo Raba), whose older sister (Juliette Binoche) will become a thorn in the side of the greedy mining corporation.

The problem facing director Riggen is obvious. There are too many personalities here to really develop any of them. Many of these fellows are “types” rather than real people.

And things get doubly complicated because while the miners are trapped 2,300 feet  down in 100-degree heat with dwindling resources (mostly a few cans of tuna), back on the surface there’s another conflict brewing. (more…)

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Kristen Stewart, Juliette Binoche

Kristen Stewart, Juliette Binoche


124 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Juliette Binoche is just about perfect in “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” playing a middle-aged actress wrestling with issues of aging and art. Of course we expect excellence from Binoche.

What we don’t expect is that Kristen Stewart, the sullen star of the “Twilight” blockbusters,  would more than hold her own with the veteran French actress in an extended battle of one-on-one acting. (If you’ve seen Stewart’s work in indie efforts like “The Cake Eaters,” “Adventureland,” “On the Road”  or “Stil Alice” you know she’s got chops never put to use in her over-inflated vampire saga.)

Stewart — who won a French Cesar Award for her performance — plays Val, the personal assistant to Binoche’s Maria, and from the film’s first frame she is an organizational dervish, simultaneously fielding calls on two cellphones, scheduling appointments and running interference for her famous employer.

Val is more than just a competent social secretary. She is Maria’s confidant, booster, career consultant and, on some level, friend. When Maria has trouble making up her mind or second-guesses her choices — all too common occurrences — Val knows just what buttons to push, what issues to raise to nudge the older woman to a decision.

Writer/director Oliver Assayas’ film centers on a new stage production of the play that made Maria a star at age 18. Back then she was cast as the young office worker who seduces and gradually destroys her boss, a woman 25 years older.

Now, though, Maria will play the older woman. Her cruel young lover is to be portrayed by Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz), a charismatic young star whose talent is frequently eclipsed by her Lohan-esque bad-girl behavior.

The bulk of the film unfolds in a house on a mountainside in the small Swiss enclave of Sils Maria, where  the low-lying clouds are bizarre and beautiful.

Maria and Val have taken up residence there to prepare for the production. They spend much time running lines from the play — Val reads the younger woman’s role — and dissecting Maria’s conflicted feelings about having to renegotiate the drama from the perspective of a mature but insecure woman. (more…)

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Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche

Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche

“WORDS AND PICTURES” My rating: C+ (Opens  June 13)

111 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

If “Words and Pictures” is about as deep as your average college entrance essay, at least it’s more entertaining.

Directed by veteran Aussie filmmaker Fred Schepsi,  “W&P” is like “Dead Poets Society” risen from the grave. There’s a bit of the zombie about it.

In a posh suburban prep school, an honors English teacher and an honors art teacher wage a love/hate feud over which has the most power and importance: words or visual images.

In this corner, Jack Marcus (Clive Owen), a once-promising poet/novelist who hasn’t written anything in years. Frustrated by his inability to share his love of literature with his indifferent students (if these entitled jerks in blue blazers are the school’s intellectual elite, I fear for our republic), Jack’s idea of preparing a class plan is to fill a thermos with ice-cold vodka.

The other brawler is a newcomer to the school. Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) is a moderately-famous painter whose career has been cut short by crippling rheumatoid arthritis. Now she teaches  art to students who don’t appear particularly gifted or dedicated. Still, she tells the kids, pictures provide truth while words offer nothing but lies.


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