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Putting her best foot forward

THIS is the week the legendary French film star Juliette Binoche literally danced off the screen and onto the stage in Shanghai.

Binoche, who won an Oscar for her supporting performance in the 1996 movie "The English Patient,?staged two performances of her experimental dance collaboration "In-I?with London-based dance master Akram Khan over the weekend.

And, the 45-year-old actress is on a mission to promote the upcoming 6th French Film Panorama (also known as the French Film Week), which will run from April 13 to 19. Both events are highlights of this year's Sino-France Culture Festival.

Co-directed by Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan, the dance theater work staged at Shanghai Oriental Art Center, combined mime, comedy, dance, song and the spoken word.

The experimental inter-disciplinary collaboration explored the agonies of a struggling couple through physical movements and abstract monologues in a dazzling stage set designed by Turner prize winning artist Anish Kapoor.

"'In-I?is basically a classical dance combined with modern dance, film and opera. And it asks the question about what's love and provides a possible answer like 'love should be an adventure in our hearts??Binoche explained.

The performance premiered in London last year and it became an instant hit acclaimed by dance enthusiasts and critics alike. Their subsequent world tour has taken them to Rome, Paris, New York, Sydney, Tokyo, Seoul, and now the duo arrives in Shanghai and Beijing, the last stops of their tour.

Binoche is surprisingly humble about her experience and the new experiment.

Asked about her involvement in the dance production, (the first time she has danced live on stage) she said, "I feel so incomplete as an artist that I still want to explore new art forms as a way of expression and communication, despite my previous experiences in cinema and theater. I always feel a strong passion for everything deep inside. And dancing and directing are part of my passion that need to be realized.?

Binoche's passions for exploring and investigating novelty have also driven her to Chinese culture and civilization.

"I'm very interested in ancient Chinese philosophy and traditional Chinese medicine. And I've read a lot about them before I came to China for my very first time,?she said with excitement.

As a newcomer to Shanghai, Binoche is amazed at the youth, strength and energy of the city as she views clusters of high-rises with old residential compounds and lanes forming a stark contrast of old and new.

"I'm really overwhelmed by such a nice fusion of old and new, East and West in this amazing city. People here are interesting and the food is great,?Binoche said after touring and tasting the traditional Chinese dumplings in town.

In Shanghai, Binoche has also attended a movie fans?meeting at the Shanghai Film Art Center to promote the coming French Film Week, a warm-up for the 12th Shanghai International Film Festival in June.

Chinese movie buffs came to know Binoche for her stunning performance in the highly regarded Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy "Three Colors: Blue?(1993), the story of Julie, a woman whose husband and child are killed in a car accident. She attempts to cut herself off from everything and live in isolation from her former ties, but finds her efforts in vain.

"Binoche's performance sets the keynote of the movie ?slow, cold yet intense. The whole film is largely centered on her, and she does not use her voice a great deal but acts with her eyes and body language. It's a real test of an actress?skills and she does such an excellent job that she helped turn the movie into a classic,?comments Liu Haibo, a seasoned movie critic and a professor from the Film Academy of Shanghai University.

As one of Binoche's personal favorites, "Blue?not only brought her two Best Actress awards at the Venice Film Festival in 1993 and France's Cesar Awards in 1994, but also had greater personal significance. "I did the movie for one of my dearest friends. What I wanted to convey through the movie was my deepest gratitude for being my friend.?

Binoche also won applause from Chinese fans for her collaboration with Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien's movie "Flight of the Red Balloon?(2008) depicting a little boy and his baby-sitter who inhabit the same imaginary world where they begin their adventures with a strange red balloon.

For Binoche that collaboration was "quite an experience.?

"Unlike some Hollywood directors I've worked with, Hou didn't offer many explanations or instructions to his actors and actresses when shooting the film. He simply gave you freedom to express your own ideas about the character and follow your own feelings when it came to acting.?

Apart from Hou, Binoche enjoys the works of many Chinese directors including Zhang Yimou, Jiang Wen and Jia Zhangke.

"Jia's works are just great. And I'm really looking forward to collaborating with some Chinese directors someday,?she smiled.

A mother of two children, Binoche remains engaging and versatile. She has published a book of poetry, featuring her own illustrations, and exhibited paintings in Paris.

She is about to be involved in another film "Certified Copy?after her dance tour. She is also the current image ambassador of French luxury brand Lanc?¥me.

So when asked about her secret of keeping her charm and balancing a multi-tasking life, she jokes at first: "I don't know ?you should ask men.?

But then she thinks. "A woman's charm comes from a tender heart and is reflected in her eyes. As far as time goes, I don't purposely design or manage my life ?I will take whatever comes to my life. You see, life flows and moves, so all you have to do is just follow ?"

Born in 1964, in Paris to a sculptor/theater director and an actress, Juliette Binoche studied at the National School of Dramatic Art of Paris and after graduation became a stage actress, occasionally taking small parts in French feature films.

She first earned recognition in 1985 in Jean-Luc Godard's controversial "Hail Mary.?Her status as a French film star was further confirmed by her acclaimed performance in Andr?T??chin??'s "Rendez-Vous?(1985).

Her international breakthrough came in 1988 when she played Tereza in Philip Kaufman's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being,?which was followed by another widely acclaimed lead role in "The Lovers on the Bridge?directed by L??os Carax in 1991.

Another film which brought her to a wider audience was Louis Malle's "Damage?in 1992.

This was followed by the lead role in Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors: Blue?(1993) which brought her two Best Actress awards at the Venice Film Festival in 1993 and France's Cesar Awards in 1994, respectively.

Ironically she turned down a part in "Jurassic Park?to make "Three Colors: Blue.?She returned to the big screen in 1995 with "The Horseman on the Roof.?

Binoche won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1997 for her role in Anthony Minghella's "The English Patient?(1996).

In 2000 she starred in the hit film "Chocolate,?a role she prepared for by learning to make chocolate at a popular Parisian sweet shop. The film was a huge success and she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress in 2001.

She followed this with "Code Unknown?(2000), a Michael Haneke film about intersecting lives, and worked with the same director in 2005 on "Hidden."

Other recent films include Anthony Minghella's "Breaking and Entering?opposite Jude Law (2006), Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Flight of the Red Balloon?(2008) and "Summer Hours"(2008) directed by Olivier Assayas.


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