A high point of the latest Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York City was an appearance by Isabelle Huppert to discusses her enduring career. It was mentioned at the event that she has appeared in 128 films.
This actress often makes fearless choices in her roles. Even in comedy. In her 2013 “Tip Top”, she played a policewoman who enjoyed physical pain, happily licking up blood dripping from her nose. In her recent “Elle”, directed by Paul Verhoeven, she portrays a woman who has an unorthodox approach to a sexual assault.
Huppert said that in choosing a film “I look for a good director in the first place. I like to expand my space of investigation…not stay in my home county.” She considers “cinema connected to travelling”, having a “double significance”, adding “I like to explore new territories.” She compared acting in film to “travelling in self”, an “inner trip.”
She said that a “great relationship” between actor and director is “quite unique…extraordinary” and “exploratory.” She spoke of having “quality moments in life” spent with a director, including seven films shot with director Claude Chabrol. She joked that after she makes a film with a director, it’s frustrating when he chooses another actress for his next film instead of asking her.
Huppert said that Chabrol “never idealized cinema”, treating “his characters as human beings”, as in “Violette” (1978), being “as honest as possible” in their film about a young woman who tries to poison her parents. She said Chabrol was “as accurate as possible” in “Story of Women” (1988) in which her adulterous character who performed secret abortions during WWII was “not nice” in “my observation.”
The staging, Huppert believes “gives the right answer” to a film where “camera movement has to be right.” She said that each film has “it’s own organic movement.” She described her 2012 hostage kidnapping film “Captive”, from Filipino director Brillante Mendoza as physical and “amazing” and quite different from the films she made with Michael Haneke (“The Piano Teacher”, “Amour”).
In her recent “Valley of Love” (https://cinemasight.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/french-rendez-vous-2016-huppert-and-depardieu-in-valley-of-love/), Huppert appears with Gerard Depardieu for the first time in over 30 year, since “Loulou” in 1980. She had appeared in “The Nun” (2013) (https://cinemasight.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/french-rendez-vous-2013-the-nun/), a previous film from Guillaume Nicloux, the director of “Valley of Love”. She liked the roughness he brought to the earlier period film, instead of being very dry like she feels many costume films are. Huppert thought the chemistry with Depardieu would be “interesting.” She found the heat of the Death Valley setting of “Valley” “inconceivable”, but later added that “human nature can get used to any extreme situation.”
She said that this movie could be interpreted in many ways, including as a “spiritual, mystical metaphor about cinema”. In this film the characters played by Huppert and Depardieu receive a letter from their dead son to visit certain locations in Death Valley. Huppert said “The son is really director” who “pulls strings” on his parents.
Huppert will soon make another film with Depardieu. She described herself not being too influenced by their previous experience working together. She called him “just an actor with whom I have a great relation as actress.” She said they “play well” together, adding “we don’t talk much, before or after” filming a scene.
When asked if she would want to direct, Huppert answered “No, too lazy, maybe out of curiosity…an expensive curiosity.’ She described herself as “fulfilled as an actress.” She begins with the “outside vision of character”. She called the costume the “first sign” of a character…essential, what we first see.” For her, being able to “transform (her)self” is a “great pleasure.”
Huppert was asked to name favorites of her films. She mentioned two very different experiences. She “warmly” recommended the controversial high-budget Western “Heaven’s Gate” (1980) for which she spent seven months filming, calling it a “great masterpiece.”
She described her 2012 South Korean film “In Another Country”, written and directed by Hong Sang-soo as “one of the most interesting…a special adventure.” Three stories dealing with a foreigner were built around her. For the day’s filming, she received screenplay pages each morning. Filming was “so precise, nothing was improvised.” She called Hong Sang-soo a “great director.”
Huppert added that “I think my youngest son hasn’t seen ‘The Piano Teacher'”, one of her controversial films for which she was chosen Best Actress at Cannes in 2001.
Huppert said that she liked “White Material” (2009), adding that “films are political”, with a “certain vision of the world.” She said Claire Denis, this film’s director/co-writer wanted to describe the point of view of a woman determined to continue running a plantation in an African country during a time of upheaval. She said Denis wanted to give power to the victim, adding “this woman was viscerally attached to this piece of land…and why she wanted to stay there.”
She added “What you expect of a film…to make people think, that’s already very political.” She said that she doesn’t “ferociously seek out” films with a “very loaded context.”
On choosing favorites of her films, Huppert said “I don’t want to choose, I love them all.”