Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases or premieres, or occasionally our own inscrutable whims. This week: As a new Juliette Binoche movie, Let The Sunshine In, begins its theatrical run in the States, we remember other highlights from the career of this world-class actor.
The most productive part of the career of André Téchiné, one of the most gifted dramatic stylists of the post-New Wave generation of French film, began with Rendez-vous, a 1985 film for which he enlisted two burgeoning young talents: the film-critic-turned-screenwriter Olivier Assayas and a cherubic 20-year-old actor named Juliette Binoche. It would be the former’s first feature script and the latter’s breakthrough role. She plays Nina, a young woman from the sticks who has come to Paris to make it as an actress. While playing a small part as a maid in a stage farce, she meets the timid real-estate office clerk Paulot (Wadeck Stanczak) and his unstable actor friend Quentin (Lambert Wilson), forming a noir-ish emotional triangle that unexpectedly breaks at the film’s halfway point, leading to theatrical meta games that seem to presage Binoche’s later collaboration with Assayas on Clouds Of Sils Maria.
But the play that’s being rehearsed in Rendez-vous isn’t a fictional work like Sils Maria’s Maloja Snake. It’s Romeo And Juliet: debased in an explicit Shakespeare-themed burlesque show, echoed in a suicide, and finally staged with Nina in the Juliet role in a heady culmination of the film’s mixed references to classical tragedy and mid-1980s malaise. The result begs to be viewed as a meeting of two internally conflicted creative forces: in one corner are Assayas’ stories of reality lost in a dialogue with art (see: Sils Maria or his own breakthrough, Irma Vep); in the other, the evolution of Téchiné’s doomed romances from grandiose artificiality to classicism. His camerawork runs the gamut from the deceptively simple to the purely technical and virtuosic—the latter best exemplified by a single-take funeral scene that fluidly tracks through a wall from wide shot into close-up and then follows a bouquet into the cremation oven.
Assayas’ pet subjects are commerce and flux, while Téchiné’s are class and sexual fluidity; they overlap in a shared fascination with performance. Binoche’s star-making turn bridges the film’s extremes—Paulot and Quentin, melancholy and violence, realism and opera—without losing her character in the film’s memorably bleak surroundings: wintertime in a big city in a cold world. It made a perfect vehicle for the redirection of Téchiné’s style, a shift toward grappling with the vagaries and mysteries of human behavior that would eventually lead to the more novelistic narratives of My Favorite Season, Wild Reeds, and Thieves—a terrific mid-1990s hat trick that was directly followed by Alice And Martin, his reunion with Binoche and Assayas, who by then had become a famous director in his own right.
Availability: Rendez-vous can be obtained on DVD from Amazon or possibly your local video store/library.