Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Isabelle Huppert at ACMI - 2

In case you're wondering where Isabelle Huppert at ACMI - 1 is, it's my post on Ma mère.

I've moved my comments about the four Huppert films I saw last week from The Week in Review to below, after Merci pour le chocolat.

I bumped into Roberta Ciabarra after last night's screening of Merci pour le chocolat. Roberta curated the magnificent Focus on Isabelle Huppert, and I told her that I consider it the best season that ACMI's put on yet (that I've seen, anyway). I also think the Focus on Land and Freedom earlier in the year and last year's Focus on Stanley Kubrick were pretty darn hot, too.

As I said to Roberta, this season is the French Film Festival for serious cinephiles, whereas that other festival caters more to the Toorak matrons (who also love to talk all the way through the 'light-as-a-souffle' romantic comedies and family dramas, and kid themselves that they're serious film-goers). I've made no secret of my love of French cinema, and this season has the greatest concentration of serious French films that I've ever seen.

Merci pour le chocolat (Nightcap, Claude Chabrol, 2000)
Before tonight, the only other film I've seen by this prolific nouvelle vague director was L'ivresse du pouvoir (A Comedy of Power, 2006) which screened at this year's French Film Festival. As I commented on then, it wasn't a film that especially engaged me, but Isabelle Huppert's performance was strong, subtle, nuanced and convincing. L'ivresse du pouvoir is a serious film not really aiming for a mass market while Merci pour le chocolat is clearly aiming at a more mainstream audience. It looks good, is reasonably intelligent with generally good performances all around but a little contrived, very much in the manner of a Hitchcock thriller. In fact, I'm sure that Chabrol modelled the film on Hitchcock's style (along with Éric Rohmer, he once wrote a book about Hitchcock).

The film is intelligent entertainment, with genuine suspense. There is attention to detail in the characters to set up different intriguing scenarios, some of which are never fully explained or reconciled (to the film's credit). It is set in Switzerland and the scenery of Lausanne looks great on screen. This is definitely better than most of the middle-of-the-road comedies and family dramas that do the run each year at the French Film Festival, but don't expect gritty social realism.

La dentellière (The Lacemaker, Claude Goretta, 1977)
This and the remaining feature films on this week's The Week in Review all screened as part of ACMI's Focus on Isabelle Huppert. This season is my most anticipated at ACMI ever, and films like this one are they reason why. It's not sensationalist in any way. It just quietly meanders, in a very observational manner, sort of a cinematic essay on a girl's transition to womanhood. The film's title appears to refer to a Vermeer painting of the same name.

Huppert must have been at least 23 years old when this film was made, but certainly looked the 18 years that she was depicting. She portrayed a very shy and quiet girl who falls in love with an older man (mid-late 20's) and the film studies their relationship. It's a slow boil affair that remains engaging throughout and ratchets up the emotions at the end, largely due to Huppert's amazing ability to depict so much without dialogue simply by her facial expressions and body language. An exquisite film that is both sad yet uplifting.

Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Slow Motion, Jean-Luc Godard, 1979)
My first Godard film and I don't understand it very well at all. If one thinks that a film is meant to be understood in one sitting then this film doesn't pass the test. But so many different art forms take time and study to understand, and this deliberately obscure and incoherent film may well fall into that category. I'm no Godard-convert based on this single sitting, and remain open to possibilities depending on other films of his and perhaps getting a better understanding of what he's about. While the performances were good, and the 4-way sex scene was very funny, I didn't really like this film much at all. It just didn't engage me.

Loulou (Maurice Pialat, 1980)
This Gérard Depardieu character sure plays an ugly brute with conviction, even in his younger days. He was absolutely obnoxious, and Huppert's character was effectively unexplained. The film depicts a questionable sense of morality at the lower end of the food-chain in Paris. Pialat (whose films had a season at Melbourne Cinémathèque last year) shows himself to be a competent director. The film was gripping, challenging and realistic throughout.

La séparation (Christian Vincent, 1994)
This is close to my favourite type of French cinema - not really close to Kieslowski, who is in a category of his own for me - but really solid, authentic social realism. Basically just a two-hander with the best role I have seen Daniel Auteuil in yet, and he even gets to upstage Isabelle Huppert. This film grabs one from the start and takes one on a roller coaster ride of a couple in crisis. While very different to Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Iklimer (Climates) in both visuals and tone, these two films would have to be the best I have seen to depict a disintegrating relationship.

The complexity in Vincent's film was exacerbated by the presence of a fifteen-month old child (who, with the same surname as the director, I'm assuming was his son). The pain that is produced during a break-up and some of the ramifications - emotional, financial and logistical - were depicted with such verisimilitude and the ending was sublime.

Related posts: Isabelle Huppert at ACMI 1, 3, 4 or All


ben hackworth said...

Hey Paul... Check out VIOLETTE NOZIERE... If it's still on. Truly spectacular early Chabrol/Huppert.

I'm the director of CORROBOREE which is screening at MIFF this year. Although the title could elicit a few groans-- it's called that to indicate our own cultural cringe -- as I think it refers only very elliptically to the content of the film. I'd love to send you a screener if you're interested... and if you like the film... please feel free to write some support.

We've had excellent support from the major Australian festivals and are beginning to embark on international festival circuit... so generating talk and a full house is really important for the film.

Let me know your address if you're interested. Thanks Ben

Paul Martin said...

Ben, from what I can ascertain, that Chabrol title was the first of 7 collaborations with Huppert. I've seen at the ACMI season, 3 films of around that period (1977-1980), and Huppert has not failed to impress in any of them. Violette Nozière is not screening, but if and when it does, I'll be sure to check it out.

As for Corroboree, I've contacted you by email separately (via your website).