French actress Juliette Binoche hit town last week to launch a veritable city-wide Binoche festival: There's her new theater-dance duet, co-created with choreographer Akram Khan at BAM, opening tonight, a retrospective of her films running at BAM's cinema through Sept. 30 and an exhibition of her paintings and self-portraits at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. The show includes Binoche's ink portraits of the late Anthony Minghella, who directed her in The English Patient, and of Binoche as Hana, the character she played in that film. Oh yes, and did we mention that the Oscar-winning actress has a new film due out this week? It's called Paris, the city where Binoche now lives again after several years away.


You've arrived in town in the midst of Fashion Week. Do you follow any designers? We heard that Alber Elbaz designed your costume for "In-l," your duet at BAM.
Alber has been a really wonderful discovery. I have a personal relationship with him and it's so wonderful to talk about the material, the color, the feeling. Before the Cannes Film festival this year, I texted him and said, 'Can you do a dress for me? Pink!' I was thinking of his pearly light pinks but when I came to see him, he had chosen this really strong pink. And he wrapped this dress around me as an evening gown and I just loved it.

[#image: /photos/58539605e3d613c03e1ec104]||||||*Binoche's self-portraits, from left: Hana in The English Patient; Anna in Caché.*

An exhibition of your paintings just opened at the French Embassy. When did you start painting? Two and half years ago, [the French film journal] Cahiers du cinema did a special on me and the editor, who knew I painted, asked me to do some portraits. I thought it would be nice to have a series of portraits of all of the directors I've worked with. So he put names on a paper and I painted them in a weekend.

Really? Just from memory?
Yes. Then I thought I wanted to do self-portraits as well. Each time I would plunge into a painting, it was like plunging into a time and my memory of playing it. For me, a role is mostly sensation, a feeling. The memory of the film for me is the shooting of it, it's the actual acting, not the result.

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You've made over 40 films. Have your ideas about beauty changed as you've gotten older?
I've just rewatched Paris, the new film I did that's coming out in America—and it talks about that. Because my character is 40 years old with three children and she feels like her love life is over. And actually her brother, who's very sick, gives her another view of her life by saying, "Go for it. You're lucky to be alive and healthy." So it's not about age. I believe that—that's why I started to dance at age 43 and why I'm doing other things.

Tell us about what it was like to start dancing on stage at age 43.
Well my masseuse Su-man asked me if I wanted to dance and I said "yes." She invited me to go to this show, which her husband was producing and Akram Khan was the dancer. I loved it. After we met with Akram he asked me if I wanted to do three days in the studio with him and try to create something together. [#image: /photos/585396056666b2eb4762de3d]||||||Binoche and Akram Kahn.

Was it difficult?
I love being conscious of my body and as an actress, you have to be. The challenge for me was to find a movement that belonged to me as an actress. What was kind of scary was the discovery that moving in space is a different story than doing exercises.

You have two kids, ages 9 and 16. Do you turn things down to stay at home with them?
If it's something I would really love to do, I find it difficult to say "no." I have to be happy as a person. You find solutions. You always find solutions. Children adapt very easily and the separation is important sometimes. Mommies have a tendency to be too possessive of their children.


Do you Twitter?
What does that mean? I don't know what it is.

What do you think of your president, Nicolas Sarkozy and his glamorous wife, Carla Bruni?
She seems very happy, what can I say? But I'm very thrilled by your President and his wife.

Photos, from top: Dominique Charriau/Wireimage; portraits by Juliette Binoche of Hana in The English Patient (1997) and Anne in Caché (Hidden, 2005) © All Rights Reserved; Binoche and Kahn courtesy BAM; Paris still, © IFC Films.