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.
Juliette Binoche is the enigma that Louis Malle’s Damage, a strangely compelling family ménage à trois, swirls around. The stakes of what could just be a classic “older man obsessed with bedding young woman” drama are raised considerably by the performances, particularly Miranda Richardson as the wronged wife, and Rupert Graves as the doubly betrayed son. Even Jeremy Irons manages to sell why successful yet sedate British politician Dr. Stephen Fleming would be so ready to throw everything away—his career, his family, basically his entire life—for the lust, not love, of Anna, his son’s girlfriend. But it would be nearly impossible not to hate this character if anyone but Binoche were playing her. Turns out there are reasons for Anna’s self-destruction, her attraction to the familial trauma she is spinning like a web. She’s far from sympathetic, but not quite a villain, in a way just as much a victim of circumstance as the people whose lives she invades. She even tries to warn Stephen: “Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.”
That line occurs during one of the lengthiest conversations between Anna and Stephen. When they meet, the sexual attraction is so strong that they are struck dumb in front of each other. The only prelude to their affair is Anna calling Stephen and him asking where she lives. When he enters her apartment, she holds her arms out winglike but also in a docile position, as Stephen ravages her for the first of many times. The impressive acrobatic qualities of the couple’s trysts only highlight how their connection rests almost solely on the physical: When Stephen says he wants to leave his wife for her, Anna points out that he’d only be trading his current situation for a basically identical one. It’s the thrill, and the clandestine aspect, that keeps them both fascinated. Granted little in the way of dialogue, Binoche conveys a hypnotic seductiveness with meaningful glances and slightly bemused smiles; the only time we see Anna laugh is during an extremely physical sex scene, as Stephen seems to have completely lost control and she delights in his mania.
Naturally, this is all bound to end in tragedy, and when it does, Anna’s alluring silence turns from mysterious to frightening. She ends the movie almost as much of a puzzle as she was at the beginning, which just makes her all the more fascinating, even as the catastrophe grows. Under Malle’s dark, intimate direction, the heartrending finale—like the affair itself—seems as inevitable as death.
Availability: Damage is available for streaming on YouTube and Google Play. It can also be obtained on DVD from Amazon or possibly your local video store/library.