Thursday, May 17, 2007

ACMI Focus on Isabelle Huppert

I first noticed Isabelle Huppert in her icy role as an emotionally disturbed piano teacher in Michael Haneke’s La pianiste (The Piano Teacher, 2001). This bold film made me sit up and notice both these names.

Haneke followed up with Le temps du loup (The Time of the Wolf, 2003, also starring Huppert) and the much acclaimed Caché (Hidden, 2003).

The very prolific Huppert has appeared in 75 films since 1972, when she was 19; that’s about three films each year. She has also appeared in several recent films, including Gabrielle (Patrice Chéreau, 2005), one of my favourite films at MIFF last year, and two films at this year’s French Film Festival. My favourite at the festival was Nue propriété (Private Property, Joachim Lafosse, 2006) in which Hupert portrays a single mother struggling with her adult sons. In L’ivresse du pouvoir (A Comedy of Power, Claude Chabrol, 2006), she portrays an obsessive investigating magistrate. While not one of my favourites, Huppert’s role was absorbing and exemplifies what draws me to her performances. She is a very nuanced actor with whom we can easily switch from feelings of contempt to sympathy in a second. She is equally capable of depicting fragility and power within one character.

“I don't try to sympathize with my characters, I just try to empathize with them”, she has been quoted as saying. She appears in the type of French films that I seek: social realist, gritty dramas that explore the dark side of human nature that may be either ultimately uplifting or superficially depressing, but usually reveal a side of human nature that few actresses can depict with authenticity. She also has a very natural and timeless Gallic beauty.

I am very excited that ACMI has announced a season of 19 (yes, nineteen!) films in which Huppert has starred, screening from Fri June 29 to Tue July 10. Aside from the above-mentioned auteurs, these films are by directors such as Maurice Pialat, Jean-Luc Godard, Hal Hartley, Australia’s Paul Cox, François Ozon, Christophe Honore, Olivier Dahan and others. The Focus on Isabelle Huppert also includes a photographic exhibition of portraits of Huppert by various photographers, to appear in ACMI Lounge from Thu June 14 to Tue July 10.

I’ve seen three of the films programmed, so that leaves 16 to try to see in 13 days! Ah, bliss and anxiety!

The following is mostly derived from the blurb on ACMI’s website:

Cool, intense and hypnotic, France’s most daring contemporary actress is celebrated in a retrospective charting an iconic screen career.

Curated by Roberta Ciabarra. Read the program notes. Presented in association with the Sofitel French Rendez-vous 2007, with the generous support of the Alliance Française and the Embassy of France.

La dentellière (The Lacemaker, Claude Goretta, 1977)
Huppert garnered a Best Newcomer BAFTA for this breakout role, early (and prescient) intimation of a great talent in the making.

Loulou (Maurice Pialat, 1980)
Nelly (Huppert) is married to a hapless advertising exec whose heavy-handed attempts to rein in his restless paramour only serve to deepen her resolve to skulk away with swaggering gadabout, Loulou (Gerard Depardieu).

Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Slow Motion, Jean-Luc Godard, 1980)
Godard referred to Sauve qui peut (la vie) as his “second first film” coming, as it did, after more than a decade’s experimentation with video. “Isabelle is clearly the film’s focal point.” The New York Times

Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, USA, 1980)
The reputation of Cimino’s monumentally staged western has justly been rehabilitated in recent years, and screens in the restored 225 minute director’s cut in glorious Panavision.

Coup de foudre (Entre Nous, Diane Kurys, 1983)
Based on an autobiographical novel by director Diane Kurys (Peppermint Soda, Six Days Six Nights) the film re-teams Huppert with the under-rated Marchand (most recently seen in Christophe Honore’s sublime Dans Paris), her co-star in Loulou.

Cactus (Paul Cox, Australia, 1986)
Huppert travelled to Australia to take up the role of Colo, a Frenchwoman in exile from a stifling marriage who embarks on a tentative romance with a lecturer at a school for the sight-impaired.

Une affaire des femmes (Story Of Women, Claude Chabrol, 1988)
Chabrol based his film on the true-life case of Marie-Louise Giraud, a working-class Frenchwoman (played by Huppert) who kept home and hearth together during the Occupation by working as a backyard abortionist.

Madame Bovary (Claude Chabrol, 1991)
Huppert likened Emma Bovary to “an idealist.a feminist without knowing it”. Her Emma is at once coquettish, exasperating, pitiless (towards her self as much as others) and ultimately deeply affecting.

Amateur (Hal Hartley, USA, 1994)
Huppert approached self-confessed Godard aficionado, Hal Hartley, who jumped at the chance to cast her in one of his deadpan, absurdist films.

La séparation (The Separation, Christian Vincent, 1994)
As Anne, Huppert gives nuanced expression to the uncertainties and compulsions of a woman who suffers (and inflicts suffering) by her own hand, but cannot retreat from her position.

La cérémonie (The Ceremony, Claude Chabrol, 1995)
The Venice Film Festival awarded Huppert the Volpi Cup for Best Actress in the film that marked her fifth screen collaboration with frequent director, Claude Chabrol.

Saint-Cyr (Patricia Mazuy, 2000)
Mazuy’s lavishly staged drama takes its title from a boarding school founded in the seventeenth century by Louis the XIV’s mistress to educate daughters of the nobility made destitute by wars.

Merci pour le chocolat (Nightcap, Claude Chabrol, 2000)
In his seventh on-screen collaboration with Huppert, Chabrol explores the nature of perversity, good and evil within the domain of family.

La pianiste (The Piano Teacher, Michael Haneke, Germany, 2001)
The Cannes Film Festival Jury unanimously awarded Huppert the Best Actress prize for her audacious performance as a respected piano teacher whose cool-headed intellectual rigour masks a predilection for destructive sexual compulsions.

8 femmes (8 Women, François Ozon, 2002)
Huppert is cast as prim horn-rimmed spinster Augustine, but holds her own in the glamour stakes - in a cast that includes the magisterial Catherine Deneuve in full Lana Turner mode - before the film’s denouement.

La vie promise (The Promised Life, Olivier Dahan, 2002)
J. Hoberman said this about Huppert in his Village Voice review: “this superb actress can register more fugitive shifts in expression in a single take than most actresses manage in an entire movie.”

Le temps du loup (The Time of the Wolf, Michael Haneke, 2003)
A sudden act of violence ruptures every moral certitude Anne (Huppert) and her two children have taken for granted in their middle class lives.

Ma mère (My Mother, Christophe Honore, 2004)
Honore’s provocative film is based on the novel by Georges Bataille, whose reputation as an exponent of the ‘literature of transgression’ belies the deeper exploration of human motivations his works attempted to illuminate.

I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell, USA, 2004)
Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) is an acutely angst-ridden environmental activist railing against corporate greed.

LINKS: ACMI / IMDB / msn movies / Wikipedia


LenKa said...

Great post! I love Huppert, too. She may be so amazignly different. & Brave - to play the piano teacher one should be:).
Was unexpected so see her - so young! - in Blier's Les Valseuses - I could recognise her only while credits.

Matt Riviera said...

I think there is no braver actress out there than the immensely talented Isabelle Huppert. The retrospective is coming to Sydney too, catch it at the Chauvel immediately after Melbourne, July 12th to 18th.

I've seen a dozen of the films on offer, and am looking forward to the rest. Hal Hartley's Amateur, which she begged him to write for her, is a cult favourite that shouldn't be missed. Trust Huppert to make the character of a nymphomaniac virgin work!

French critics have led the way in rehabilitating Cimino's Heaven's Gate, perhaps one of the most famous flops of all time, and it's a brilliant opportunity to catch up with the director's cut of the Amercian masterpiece.

Huppert is brilliant in La Separation and La Ceremonie, but it's in roles that push the envelope that she truly excels, from Honoré's Ma Mère to Haneke's La Pianiste.

Geist said...

Doesn't include the 2006 Chabrol. Sigh.

Paul Martin said...

Lenka and Matt, I completely agree with your description of 'brave'.

Huppert is an actor of such icy exterior that I often find it hard to warm to her, yet she's so quietly intense that she is irresistible as a performer. I was last night reading various fascinating quotes attributed to her (I think I might make a post just of Huppert quotes). She was saying things like ambiguous and unlikable characters are much more interesting and that she's not interested in unoriginal material. She obviously gravitates towards the same kinds of films that I like to see.

Chabrol's 2006 film with Huppert did screen here recently. I thought Huppert's performance was better than what the film was overall. It was good, but it didn't fully engage me.

Matt, thanks for the info on those films. I can't fit them all in (hehe, but maybe I will anyway), so it's good to get a heads up on them.

Maya said...

Paul, I'm surprised to realize I've seen eight of the films in this retrospective. I hope you get catch as many, if not more, later this summer.

Huppert has gradually become one of my favorite actresses. "Nuanced" is the perfect way to describe her. Thank you for alerting me to your post.

Paul Martin said...

Actually, Michael, it'll be winter here. ;)

And she has gradually become one of my favourites.