Juliette Binoche on Playing an Older Woman Looking for Love in 'Let The Sunshine In'

Juliette Binoche as Isabelle in Let The Sunshine In

"In order to be respected by others, you've got to respect yourself first," says the actress, who stars in the new film by Claire Denis.

In director Claire Denis' new romantic dramedy Let the Sunshine In, the award-winning Juliette Binoche plays Isabelle, a woman hungry for love.

The film follows Binoche's Isabelle as she encounters disappointing man after disappointing man on a quest for romantic and, ultimately, self-love. In a story about the pitfalls of modern relationships, Binoche, 54, isn't offering a Hollywood portrayal of a middle-aged woman but uses her sexuality freely in her role as a Parisian artist.

“So often in films the only actresses that are offered sexy, attractive moments are very young women,” the film's director says. “I think Juliette is a perfect beauty, and her sexiness is so obvious. That was important for me.”

Written by Denis and French novelist Christine Angot, Let The Sunshine In is a departure from Denis’ weightier, more hard-hitting films Beau Travail and White Material. “I was not completely aware it was a comedy, I must say,” Denis admits. “But when I was writing with my co-author we were laughing at our own disaster in our own private lives.”

The authenticity that Denis and Angot brought to Isabelle was one of the reasons why Binoche was drawn to the role. “As an actor you relate it to your memories,” Binoche describes. “I like the fact that this woman is trying to find a relationship where she feels respected and where she can feel protected and loved, really. She's trying with courage, each time to jump into it, and to believe that it's going to happen and it's going to work.”

The film’s title reflects the lesson Isabelle learns through her failed romances — that one’s needs cannot be satisfied simply by outside relationships. “Being tranquil in a relationship is, it's not a fairytale, it's not an easy task. So to focus in such sun, the shine, the light, is a solution. Because we all have big needs that cannot be fulfilled if we don't take them from an inside point of view,” Binoche says.

Denis and Binoche have now completed two projects in a row together, the second being Denis’ upcoming sci-fi debut High Life, starring Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson. “She's generous in a way of portraying you,” Binoche enthuses when asked about working with Denis. “A lot of directors, they put the camera on and then you put yourself in what is set up. With Claire it was different. She would make you sit down, or place you wherever on the set, and then she would place the camera.”

Let The Sunshine In premiered at Cannes last year, just months before the newfound public awareness of Hollywood sexism and gender inequality emerged alongside the #MeToo movement. But despite the timeliness of the film’s release, Denis and Binoche both believe that it has always been vital to create and play strong women.

“Of course, this film could have been written at any time,” Binoche says. “I always felt like I fought for or chose to talk about a reality we're going through as women in different ways.”

With more than 60 featured films under her belt, Binoche has candid advice for women who aspire to be in the powerful roles she has carried. “There's a simple word that you can use at any time — it's no,” Binoche says. “You've got to make a choice clear to yourself so that you have your own respect. In order to be respected by others you've got to respect yourself first, and that means to be in tune with what you think and what you feel.”