NEW YORK (AP) — Actress Juliette Binoche has long been fascinated by war photography, she says, and often wonders about the people who risk their lives to capture such photos. Who are they, and what are they like?
She got a crash course when preparing for her new movie, "1,000 Times Good Night," in which she plays a photojournalist and mother whose personal risks wreak havoc on her family.
Known for her intensive preparation for films — for "The Lovers on the Bridge," for example, she slept in the streets of Paris to experience life as a homeless person, angering her own mother — Binoche interviewed war photojournalists to get a sense of what drives them. "The passion they have for their work can become an obsession," she says. "You want to have a family, and yet you can't live without your passion. How is it possible to live with both?"
Norwegian director Erik Poppe says he based the film on his own experiences as a photojournalist. But he decided to make the central character a woman, he says, because he felt it would intensify the sense of conflict between one's profession and one's family. Binoche's character, Rebecca, has a husband and two daughters, all of whom suffer in various ways from what she puts them through.
It's not lost on either the director or his leading lady that this is a particularly apt time to focus on the dangers of being a war journalist, with the recent beheadings of journalists in Syria at the hands of Islamic State militants — and other deaths in the past few years. "It's going to be harder and harder for people to do this work," Poppe notes.
The film begins in Afghanistan, where Rebecca is documenting the last hours of a Taliban suicide bomber — in this case, a woman. No male photographer would be allowed to see such intimate preparations as the dressing of the bomber, ending with the fitting of her suicide vest.
But Rebecca wants even better photos, so she asks to ride in the bomber's car into Kabul. Exiting the car, she snaps yet a few more, and in doing so, inadvertently attracts the attention of the police. The ensuing struggle results in the premature detonation of the bomb. Rebecca is seriously wounded, but is luckier than the civilians nearby who are killed.
"We talked about that scene a lot," Binoche says. "Rebecca tries to warn people nearby — but yet, she pushes it. It's always this question of how far can you go as a human being. Why didn't she say to the police, 'It's a suicide bomber.' It's hard. You're working with your instinct, trying to cause as little harm as possible and yet getting information to the world."
Poppe notes that the film tries not to judge Rebecca. "It's not black and white," he says. "She's trying to tell a story. The fact is they were going out to kill people, maybe many more. But a situation like this can break you apart. "
Indeed, when Rebecca arrives home to recuperate, she is broken and wracked with guilt. She promises that she'll stop. But when an opportunity arises again, this time in Africa, her photographer's instincts kick in yet again, with still more harrowing results for her family.
The ending, which brings her back to Afghanistan where she began, isn't totally clear. "It's not really about the answer, it's about the questioning," Binoche says. "Definitely she cannot carry on the way she did, because it went really too far. But what I love about art is that it's not for answering, it's for raising questions."
It's a busy time for Binoche, a 1996 Oscar winner for "The English Patient," who at 50 is still one of France's most glamorous actresses. She's also getting attention for "Clouds of Sils Maria," in which she appears with Kristen Stewart , playing an older actress reviving a play that made her famous 20 years earlier.
Binoche is known for working outside the studio system — both the Hollywood system and in her own country, she points out. "Very quickly I felt the need to be an outsider of ANY system," she says. "I knew that speaking English was the medium I had to travel with — I got that very early on."
"To do a few commercial films so that then I can then do this many independent films — for me it doesn't work that way," she adds. "I only go for what I really love. I'm not against commercial if it interests me. But the choice has to come not from fear. That's the key. Choosing from fear, you are not connected to your root. Who doesn't want to have success? But the real success at the end of the day is (doing something) I care for, and learning something while doing it."