A Thousand Times Good Night

When revered Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami cancelled his attendance at the Marrakech Film Festival due to ill health, the organizers could have had a further problem on their hands as he was meant, in addition to giving a masterclass, to be handing out the award at one of the “Hommages”—the tributes given to a filmmaker or actor in recognition of their body of work. However, that one headache didn’t occur here because the recipient was Juliette Binoche, practically the busiest actress on the planet, and Bruno Dumont, her director in this year’s “Camille Claudel” and himself the subject of a Marrakech masterclass, stepped into the breach instead. It’s a mark of just how constantly she is shooting, and with what calibre of filmmaker, that, throw a stone at a festival like this, and you’ll hit two or three people who have worked with Binoche, and probably recently.

We ourselves last caught up with the actress back in February during the Berlinale where she was promoting “Camille Claudel" (review here). This time out, the film that was the new news was Erik Poppe’s “A Thousand Times Good Night” (review here). In it, Binoche plays a famous war photographer caught between the extreme demands of her vocation and her family obligations. Here she talks about the role, about her wary relationship with Hollywood and about how she feels, especially with next year’s “Sils Maria” from Olivier Assayas, that she is more in the driving seat of her career than ever before.

"I’d already said yes to Kieslowski for 'Blue' and there was no way I was going to back up and say 'Goodbye, I’m going to do Jurassic Park!' "

What did you discover when researching the part of the intrepid war photographer you play here?
Well, for one thing, when you go to Afghanistan it’s a different situation. When you go mostly into Muslim worlds there’s a real difference. I spoke with Lynsey Addario who’s a war photographer and went to Afghanistan several times. It’s amazing how she prepares her trips before going. It’s not improvised at the last minute; it’s pretty organized, especially when it’s very dangerous.

And what answers do you think this film gives about the moral questions that war photography poses?
I don’t know whether it gives an answer, this film. It definitely gives some questions because, at the beginning, she can take pictures of this suicide bomber. At the end of the story, she cannot take pictures of the suicide bomber, so there’s been some kind of reflection and layers she’s reached throughout the story; it doesn’t give the answer of it, it’s for you to understand what you want to understand. I’ve met with a war photographer who decided to stop because it was too hard, and because putting himself in a dangerous place, there’s a moment where you think about your life, you think about why you need to go there. Of course, you can find a lot of reasons why you’re there: You want to show the world, you’re angry, you want to show the reality of things, the truth of it. But then to put your life in danger or to witness such horror; there’s a question about “What do I want to do with my life, and what do I want to report to others about life?” 

There are interesting questions to it because there are more and more photographers; especially women because of the Muslim world situation. It brings the question about, as a woman, to have a passion and a dangerous passion; why is it not as accepted as a man going to a war zone and having a family as well. There’s a huge difference. People don’t accept that a woman would go into a war zone—people think “Oh, she’s a bad mother.” But that wouldn’t be their first thought for the father.

Can we make parallel between the character’s dedication to her job and yours?
I’m a fighter as a mother. I’m fighting to be a mother, but I cannot say no to my passion because it’s me, as well. You have to combine those crazy situations anyway because that’s what life gives you. I wouldn’t choose one or the other, never; it never occurred to me. [My children] have a special mother, but they’re very special, as well. I’ve always been cautious of them having what they need. They’ve been traveling a lot with me, and sometimes they choose not to travel with me. It’s always been an adaptation of a situation; it’s never been “It’s always like this. Mom decided...or Dad decided...”

You adapt to what’s going on because life is changing all the time. As my work sometimes is here or there, or theater or something else; it’s never the same. The best mother is the mother who adapts, and the best children are the children who adapt, as well. Too much of knowing exactly…for me it doesn’t work like that. But I understand some people who need to go to the office [each day]; I don’t need that. Probably because I don’t feel unstable inside, I feel stability. I can go around, that’s fine. Maybe if I was unstable, I would need something more controllable.