Juliette Binoche
plays a woman
with RA.

A heart-warming, new summer movie, Words and Pictures, released June 6, has something rare, perhaps never before seen, in a feature film – a leading character with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

An artist, Dina Delsanto, played by the beautiful Juliette Binoche, reluctantly turns to teaching after rheumatoid arthritis makes the fine art painting for which she is known impossible. In part, it’s a story about post-diagnosis life changes and self-identity.

Actor Clive Owen plays English teacher Jack Marcus, an author who hasn’t written much worth publishing in a long time. He’s a disheveled Gregory House-like character who is in denial about his drinking and the disaster he is making of his life. 

Scene: The character, Dina Delsanto, played by Academy Award-winner Juliette Binoche, struggles to open a bottle of arthritis medication.

Words and Pictures is a fun, witty even if predictable romance. Marcus flirts by pestering Delsanto, then sets up a rivalry between language and art, or “words and pictures,” asking students to prove which is more powerful. 

Screenwriter Gerald Di Pego says Binoche, who won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in The English Patient and is in the new Godzilla movie, prepared by spending time with physical therapists and patients with RA while in Paris.

During the shoot, Binoche arrived early each morning for application of prosthetic knuckles showing joint damage, redness and swelling.

It was Di Pego who “gave” the heroine rheumatoid arthritis. “Both characters identify themselves with their art,” he says. “I wanted each to have their own battles. His should be internal and emotional and hers needed to be external, evident.” He wanted Delsanto’s challenge to be a process, not a sudden trauma such as an accident.

He knew a little about RA from a family friend who has lived with it half her life. “I said to her, walk me through it,” he says.

RA-spotters will find many scenes and details to note. Delsanto uses a buttonhook for her blouse, does range-of-motion exercises and talks about a medication cocktail. During a flare (it was Binoche’s idea to write a flare into the script), she can’t open a pill bottle and ends up smashing it with a meat mallet. Pills scatter everywhere.

It was a great scene.

The best scene of all is a love scene. She says, “You’d have to be careful.” He says, “I’ve had a vasectomy and I’m very clean.” She says, “No, you idiot, with my body!” He says, “You just have to tell me what hurts and where.”

See the official Words and Pictures movie trailer and check your local listings to find it in a theater near you.