- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

Juliette Binoche was born in Paris and is one of the world’s best-known French actresses. Yet there’s still something slightly novel about seeing her in Cedric Klapisch’s latest film, “Paris,” an ode to the varied people living in the titular capital.

“I was happy to go back to a French movie because I’ve done stuff in French or in Paris, but with strangers — Taiwanese, Austrian, Japanese directors,” the actress says by telephone from New York.

In fact, Miss Binoche has one of the most international resumes of any actress working today. She first gained worldwide acclaim in the American film of the Czech novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” Her first Cesar Award came for “Trois Couleurs: Bleu,” a French film by Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. She won her Oscar for playing a French-Canadian nurse in the British film “The English Patient” and another nomination playing alongside Johnny Depp in Swede Lasse Hallstrom’s “Chocolat.”

She was in her native Paris for Austrian Michael Haneke’s “Cache” but played a Bosnian immigrant in London in Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering.”

“That was my dream, that was my vision when I was 18,” Miss Binoche says. “That’s why I started learning English pretty soon. I wanted to be free; I didn’t want to stay. I decided, I’ll be French in other countries.”

One wonders if her countrymen are comfortable with such an international success.

“It’s a good question,” she allows. “I feel like sometimes people say, ‘Oh yes, you work a lot outside of France’ with a kind of admiration, and sometimes feel abandonment. I don’t think too much about that. I’m so much into the work I’m doing.”

Miss Binoche is a vibrant actress who doesn’t seem anywhere near her 45 years. So it’s a bit strange to see her character in Paris tell her brother that she has few romantic aspirations because men are interested only in younger women. She didn’t find that hopelessness hard to play, though.

“We have everything in us,” she says. “We cannot partition ourselves into pieces. I feel like any actor can play many, many different characters and feelings. I have times where I feel very abandoned and lost and times when I feel strong in my life. I can relate to anybody and anything.”

It was her character’s profession that her director anticipated would be a stretch for the glamorous international star. “Cedric thought playing a social worker, being Juliette Binoche, was a challenge,” she says with a laugh. “But we had no money at home, I wasn’t an only child, so I relate to the difficult very easily.”

She certainly hasn’t noticed roles drying up as she gets older. “I feel my energy has never been as good as now,” she says. “I don’t feel the weight of it.”

In fact, in her 40s she learned to dance and starred in the theatrical dance production “In-i” in London, and she’s a painter, too. One wonders if the multitalented artist might also turn to directing one day.

“As an actress, I’m so fulfilled, and I can share a lot of ideas with directors,” she demurs. “I feel all the films I made are mine as well. We’ll see.”

Verse averse

Jane Campion might seem a natural choice to direct a film about Romantic poet John Keats.

Though she’s from New Zealand, not Keats’ England, the 55-year-old filmmaker has made movies before about creative people whose difficult lives are made bearable through their art: 1990’s “An Angel at My Table,” about novelist and poet Janet Frame, and 1993’s “The Piano,” for which Miss Campion won the best-screenplay Oscar and became the second woman with a directing nomination.

Yet she seems surprised herself that she wrote and directed “Bright Star,” which explores the last years of the poet, who died of tuberculosis at 25.

“The pathway there was complicated in the sense I was poetry averse,” she says by telephone. “It’s not that I didn’t like it; I thought that I didn’t get it. I felt stupid.” She says with a laugh that she told herself, “Grow up, read a biography, get it in context, you can do it. I’m a 50-year-old woman. My mother’s a poet.”

She read Richard Holmes’ two volumes of Coleridge biography and then Andrew Motion’s Keats biography. “Halfway through it, I came across this love story, Keats and his next-door neighbor, Fanny Brawne,” she says, talking about how moving Keats’ love letters were. “Brilliant. Paranoid. Passionate. They were everything. I was staggered they were not better known.”

Even after this discovery, it took her a few years to hit upon the idea of telling the story of Keats through Brawne’s eyes. “There was no way I was going to do a biopic starting with little baby Keats,” says Miss Campion, whose last film, “In the Cut,” was released six years ago.

She grew up listening to her parents recite poetry — including Keats. Her mother died two years ago, but Miss Campion can easily recall her declaiming the first lines of “Ode to a Nightingale”: “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains My sense …”

“The rhythms got them, I think,” she says. “I agree with Jay Parini, who talks about why poetry matters. We make our thoughts with words. The highest use of words, or the most distinctive use of words, is poetry. It actually changes the way you think. It elevates it.”

Miss Campion — who had a couple academics, including Mr. Motion, give her and some crew members poetry classes — notes, “Everyone goes to the gym and works out, shaping their muscles. Poetry is a great way to exercise the mind.”

Kelly Jane Torrance

‘No Impact’ family

Want to really understand where Colin Beavan — the subject, along with his wife, Michelle Conlin, and daughter Isabella, of the new documentary “No Impact Man” — is coming from?

Consider the full title of his new book: “No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process.”

The title appears on a cover composed of post-consumer recycled cardboard, naturally.

“In 2006, there was just all this news that was really depressing me,” Mr. Beavan says in an interview over the phone. “I thought we were fighting a war for oil, we were literally melting the planet, and not only that, the oil we were fighting for and melting the planet with was not making the people in my circle of friends really happy.

“Everyone was supposed to have won the American dream, but everybody was depressed and anxious.”

To fight against that ennui, Mr. Beavan began the “No Impact Man” project: a blog and book deal that would document his family’s attempt to leave no carbon footprint for one year. When family friend and documentarian Laura Gabbert caught wind of the project, she persuaded the reluctant Mr. Beavan to allow her cameras in to follow his and his wife’s progress.

“Colin made them promise to make as low-carbon a movie as possible,” Ms. Conlin says over the phone. “It was very much like having a relative with a camera in the room. It was just one person with a camera: There was no crew, nothing like that.”

Hesitant to agree because of his intense loathing of reality television, Mr. Beavan finally relented when his wife convinced him that the movie would reach an entirely different audience than the book. And getting the message out is the most important thing for Mr. Beavan.

“There’s just this kind of stressful life, and the question becomes, in this work-to-spend treadmill that we’re all on, ‘Do we spend enough time with the people that we love?’” Mr. Beavan says of the huge-impact lifestyle most Americans have. “Do we get to spend enough time doing the things that are really important to us?”

Sonny Bunch

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