Elles About

Interview with Juliette Binoche

What was your initial reaction when you read the screenplay?

I immediately sensed the intelligence in the development of the subject matter, an approach that was both courageous and not oversimplified. The film doesn’t accuse anyone, but questions us. It gives us a sense of the insidious changes in our society, which have influenced the way we are and how we think. It’s not easy to study when you have financial difficulties. Prostitution pays well, doesn’t take up much time, allows a certain financial comfort, and lets you feel a part of the consumer society. We are used to advertisements in which barely pubescent girls are surrounded by luxury in provocative postures verging on the pornographic. In time, these advertisements lead you to think that youth, luxury and sex blend together quite well. Doing a casual job becomes more degrading than making love for money.

How did you first meet Malgoska?

Slawomir Idziak, Kieslowski’s director of photography on Blue, first told me about Malgoska, and told me she was one of the most gifted Polish directors of her generation. I liked the screenplay, so I was looking forward to meeting her. She was intriguing, funny, and almost wary. The first time we saw each other, she said it would never work between us because our personalities were both too strong!

Was your working relationship with her difficult?

On the contrary, there was a mutual understanding and respect right from the start. I felt there was something of her in the film that needed to come out into the world. It was an artistic, emotional, and intellectual birth.

By playing the part of the journalist who writes an article on these young women, do you become Malgoska’s alter ego?

It’s not really about her, but about the questions she poses. What is a woman? What is her sexuality? What is love? What are her fears? What are her judgments? Prostitution? Pleasure? Youth? What excites her? What is it like to be married? To feel shame? What is it like to be stuck? Shocked? To be a mother? A journalist? The director explores all these questions through my character. I become her accomplice, her inspiration, her second wind, her sister, her researcher — even her sculpture when circumstances are ideal.

Are you at a point in your career when you want to take more risks?

I find risk-taking intoxicates me, stimulates me, makes me lose my bearings. It’s necessary to take risks to avoid resting on your laurels and in order to open yourself up to new, pertinent experiences. Artists owe it to themselves to risk exposing their deepest self to stir their soul, to confront it with new material, new meanings, new thoughts. The real risk would be to repeat oneself, to get bogged down in certainties. Fortunately, we’re not looked at for ourselves, but beyond that. And that’s why I can stand that intimacy. Otherwise I’d prefer to hide — it’s more comfortable! In a film, there’s the idea of conveying something intimate and extraordinary that the director seeks to reveal through the actor or actress.

Your character seems surprised, shocked, and amused by the girls’ replies to her questions.

How can you not be fascinated, intrigued, horrified, envious of the seeming freedom of youth, of this lifestyle choice, for a while? It’s the question of conscience that rears its head during those interviews. The solitude of these young students and of this mother aren’t so far apart at times.

One also senses a burgeoning closeness between the journalist and the two girls. Did it also exist among the three actresses?

Yes, but in a different way. Anaïs is a rising star of French cinema, with a remarkable ear and sensitivity. She has instinctive intelligence. What Joanna conveys is, above all, her desire for freedom, a wild side that can be expressed at any moment. We feel like she puts her whole life on the line when she acts.

The idea of prostitution is extended to the whole of society.

Nobody is spared. It’s up to each of us to reflect on that. The film isn’t judgmental, but it raises the alarm. Malgoska’s idea is that the audience is excited by what they see and are caught red-handed taking part in a system. It’s up to each of us to see for ourselves, and to see into ourselves.

Is it inevitable to use the word “feminism” in describing the film?

Talking about women, the feminine, and intimacy isn’t being a feminist. To me, the word “feminism’’ is inadequate, but I can understand if some people use it. Seeing a young student selling her body for money isn’t trivial. The subject is taboo. The film doesn’t try to be moralizing or assert a right. It throws light on a situation that society creates by its desire to sell, to shock, to influence, and to show the body as an object by denying a person’s existence. Love in all its forms can take us to the most nightmarish situations as well as the most beautiful. True freedom is choice. It’s our responsibility to make sure that this choice is safeguarded.