The Rev. Jesse Jackson read Richard Nelson Jacob's script for the adaptation of Chocolat, and wanted to see the movie. Last night he got his chance, along with his daughter, family friends, New York Civil Liberties Union president Norman Siegel, local New York union leader Dennis Rivera, famed WNBC political correspondent Gabe Pressman, actor/documentarian Donovan Leitch, and the movie's beauteous and talented star, Golden Globe nominee Juliette Binoche.
The screening had to be scheduled for 5 p.m. so Binoche could come over in between matinee and evening performances of Harold Pinter's Betrayal, in which she's starring on Broadway through the end of this month.
She said in her lovely French-accented English, when others gasped that she had the energy: "Oh, no really, this is the fun part. This is real." Then, like any good French woman, she happily participated in an existential discussion of reality. Beautiful and smart.
The Rev. Jackson loved the movie, of course. He spoke before the screening about having read the script.
He said: "Movies have a way to some degree of levity and drama to lift [us] up and penetrate our subconsciousness. That there's hope in this film about tolerance ... the American dream in this great multicultural society is about learning to live together as brothers and sisters ... Whether it's the Mideast or New York, France or America this idea is about being able to see the brilliant side of dark clouds. Everyone matters.
"Movies at their best illuminate and set the themes of our times. This is one reason I've often challenged makers of music and movies that I felt was degrading. I've seen music and movies that at best illuminate and inspire, inform and teach and stir people's imagination. At a time when there's such uncertainty in the nation, so much anxiety and fear and a move toward exclusion again, inclusion must be a theme."
In Chocolat, the local mayor rails against gypsies who camp out on a village's shore, and tries to oust Binoche's character from her new store, a chocolaterie that she sets up during Lent. Former friends turn against each other as they struggle with the issue of whether or not to let strangers into their lives.
The great gentleman producer, David Brown — who's made everything from Jaws to Driving Miss Daisy in his 50 plus years in Hollywood — spoke next. He said, "I say to the Reverend with no fear of blasphemy, continue to give them hell."
Before the film was screened, Binoche added some thoughts: "Are we united? That's the question. The movie doesn't give answers, it gives questions, and that's why I did it."
Juliette Binoche has it pretty easy. She filmed Chocolat in France and England. Now she's going to Italy next summer. Binoche has signed on to star in The Assumption, a movie written by her Oscar-winning English Patient director Anthony Minghella and directed by Walter Salles, who was nominated for an Oscar for Central Station in 1998. Miramax, the maker of Chocolat and The English Patient, will be home to this movie which already has award buzz and it hasn't even been made.
But such is the story of Binoche. It's also easy to be under her spell. I must say I was last night as she sampled mouth watering Godiva chocolate cannolis stuffed with raspberry sauce and talked about her career.
She's already won an Oscar in 1997, for best supporting actress in The English Patient. Now she's nominated for a Golden Globe, is a cinch for another Oscar nomination for her role as Vianne in Chocolat. Her other credits including highly praised turns in movies like The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Damage, Horseman on the Roof and Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy White, Blue and Red.
"When I read the script, I felt it was about inclusion and exclusion completely. It was not about this chocolate issue although I love it. I'm sure my mother ate a lot of it when I was in the womb.
"What I loved about [it] was everyone finding their own way, with a chocolate as the bridge. I make movies because I feel like changing something, that's the aim. It's not about making more money or being more famous."
"It can be just a sweet movie about a lady who changes people's lives. But it's also about whether you live the life you want, the life you dreamt of when you were little, and not the one people expect you to have.
Juliette starred with her Chocolat supporting actress Lena Olin in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Philip Kaufman, 1988) — their onscreen friendship was so warm and comfortable that it seemed like the two women had been friends forever when they reunited in Chocolat.
Not so, however.
"We didn't speak at all. She was traveling a lot, so was I. That's with actors, you can be close to each other ... There's a relationship, of course, from time past. We had a lot to talk about. I really related to her. As with Judi Dench, there was a real connection there."
Juliette had some observations about her director Lasse Hallström, as well. "Lasse knows how to make you feel comfortable because he opens the door of the camera. He lets things happen. It's very wise and clever. And he chose the people he believed in."
Binoche compares Hallström to the late Louis Malle, who directed her in Damage. "Louis was like Lasse. He wouldn't push too much, he wouldn't say too much. He'd let it happen through the actor. And I think the casting choice of the actor is where he puts his desire."
She was shocked by the way that she won over Lauren Bacall back in 1997. "I was really shocked. It was great for The English Patient because I didn't think about it. You just have to think about the work."
In this year's Golden Globes, Binoche is nominated for best actress in a comedy or musical. "Isn't that funny?" she laughs. "It's not my field. I have so much in the drama area. But in life I am much more into the comedy field." She should know: she has two children, ages 7 and 1. "You have to have a sense of humor when you have children. And even if you don't."