Skip to main content
Jo Tomalin

Juliette Binoche: Miss Julie

By August 22, 2012August 25th, 2012No Comments

 Photo: Juliette Binoche as Mademoiselle Julie © Christophe Raynaud De Lage


Dazzling Mademoiselle Julie

Imagine a wide white cube with floor to ceiling windows and several tall, lithe, barren tree trunks in the background. There you have the brightly lit stage (set and light Design by Laurent P. Berger) for this contemporized version of August Strindberg’s Mademoiselle Julie, now playing (in French, translation by Terje Sinding) at the world renowned Odéon Théâtre de l’Europe, Paris. While this stark vision may not evoke the traditional home of 1888 when Strindberg wrote “Miss Julie”, it is a perfect canvas for the volatile dance of death director Frédéric Fisbach has created.

Photo: Nicolas Bouchard and Juliette Binoche in Mademoiselle Julie © Christophe Raynaud De Lage

Strindberg wanted to write a tragedy about men and women and the story focuses on the angst and entanglements of male female relationships but with a twist – class issues of master and servant. In this case Miss Julie is the daughter of the owner of the house and Jean is the servant, engaged to Christine the cook. Although scandalous when first produced at end of 19th century Strindberg’s writing and the emotional possibilities of the characters in Miss Julie continue to inspire interpretations and productions worldwide

Fisbach interprets Miss Julie as an existential play that embodies love, desire, and explores naturalism and symbolism. He also sees this as a modern day relatable battle of brains, based on the intelligence + psychology of the two main characters, Mademoiselle Julie played by Juliette Binoche and Jean played by Nicolas Bouchaud.

Juliette Binoche creates an astoundingly believable character physically and emotionally embodying a vast arc and range of sincerity, exuberance, curiosity, naïveté, who is also domineering, passionate and needy. She is masterful at owning the dialogue, as a contemporary woman.

Nicolas Bouchaud as Jean is equally engaging and a good match for Binoche in his carefully drawn worldly servant who is usually in charge downstairs in the kitchen where most of the action takes place, but the unexpected intrusion of Miss Julie from the upstairs world as she returns from a party (continuing in view behind the cube among the trees) causes Jean’s relationship to her through the evening and early next morning,  to hover – at first courteous and sensible, later seduced then confused and ultimately quietly manipulative.

Photo: Nicolas Bouchard and Juliette Binoche in Mademoiselle Julie © Christophe Raynaud De Lage

The human interactions of Binoche wearing an elegant shimmering gold gown (costume design by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin) and Bouchard are true, wrestling with man and woman issues as if in real time, pushing and pulling with poetic, emotional and unexpected challenges leading to the dramatic last moments of the play. Bénédicte Cerutti is wonderful as Christine, coming and going as she finishes her work at night or starts again in the morning. Cerutti’s Christine is earthy, less complex than Jean and Julie and is often the voice of reason in this psychological thriller. A chorus of about thirteen actors dances at the party in the background to pop dance music which disperses as the evening progresses.

The contrasting characters of the three main actors are not only due to the text and the actors themselves, but also due to Fisbach’s direction and attention to detail. Fisbach has very successfully guided his actors to develop different movement qualities in their characters which show the hierarchy and suggest point of view. Binoche is often symmetric and confident standing her ground firmly, while Bourchard’s Jean is often less so with nuances in his asymmetric stance and gestures, however he moves and speaks with stealth which ranges from respectful to romantic and at times chilling.

The rhythm of the play is fluid and takes its time, punctuated by volatile moments, plus two or three short, mesmerizing visceral flashes between Jean and Julie, accompanied by pulsating sounds that make them even more breathtaking. One very moving moment of the play is when the balance of their relationship is fleetingly equal and they are just a man and woman sitting on a step outside chatting during a date – she is getting cold, so he gently puts his jacket on her shoulders while they sit on the edge of the set close to the audience. The magic of simplicity!

This evocative Julie is one to be seen. It premiered at the annual Summer Avignon Theatre Festival in 2011 and continues at the Odéon Théâtre in Paris until June 24, 2012. Then it moves to the Barbican in London from September 20 to 29, 2012.

For more information:
Odéon Théâtre Website
Jo Tomalin Ph.D.
Critics World