Isabelle Huppert slips from film to film

Isabelle Huppert received her twenty-second nomination at the Cannes Film Festival for Frankie. Reine Hupppert I continues to deliver one brilliant performance after another, but don’t ask her to look back at her career. “I don’t believe in my own mythology enough to spend too much time digging in the past.”

The numbers obviously don’t tell the whole story of her uncontested talent, but they are impressive nonetheless. Isabelle Huppert has been nominated for an award at Cannes 22 times. In 1978 (Violette) and 2001 (La pianiste), she won the award for best actress. She has worked with some of the best: Claude Chabrol (seven times), Benoît Jacquot (six times), Michael Haneke (three times and counting), Bertrand Tavernier, Jean-Luc Godard, Marco Ferreri, Marco Bellocchio, Paul Verhoeven, Claire Denis, Joachim Lafosse, Patrice Chéreau, and François Ozon.

Frankie is not the best film we’ve seen by Ira Sachs, the American who made the excellent films Little Men and Love Is Strange, but there is a general consensus about the brilliant performance from the leading lady of French cinema. Huppert plays a terminally ill actress who invites her adult children, husband, exes, and friends to an enchantingly beautiful spot in Portugal and is determined to enjoy the sun and not to cry.

Frankie seems to have reconciled herself with her impending death and surrounds herself with people that she cares about. What would you do if you were in her shoes?
ISABELLE HUPPERT: I don’t know. I never imagine being in the same situations as the characters I play. It isn’t to protect myself or anything like that. It’s not a strategy; it’s just because it never comes up. I don’t think about it. I am reconciled to the paradox of acting: you are the character, but at the same time, you aren’t.I do understand that many people ask me this question now, though.

Even though the film is about a person who is dying, it is also about something vital. Moreover, you simply can’t avoid the fact that I play an actress and that I am myself an actress. That creates great intimacy between me and the character and of course it is no coincidence. Ira Sachs knows what he’s doing. He has made his film real and self-evident. But as far as I am concerned personally, I never worry about the things that my characters are struggling with.

Is Frankie prouder of her work than her family? And is that confronting?
HUPPERT: That is a subtle suggestion in the film. Acting was clearly an extremely important part of her life. She wants to donate her money to a foundation for actors, for example. That is very generous, but also a little heartless towards her family who will inherit almost nothing. There is something selfish and selfless about it. Ira Sachs is brilliant at evoking contradictory feelings. I admire that about his work. The film is tragic but also very lively, sunny but also dark. Ira is a master of contrast and the subtle coalescence of opposites. I like films that say a lot with few words, but there are not many films like that.

In Frankie, you speak English, just like you did earlier this year in Greta, the horror fairy-tale by Neil Jordan. Is there a particular reason for that?
HUPPERT: No, it is purely coincidental. I enjoy acting in English but I readily admit that it is very different. I do not feel as though I am the same when I act in French and in English. For Greta, I dubbed my own voice into French. Who would have done it better? (Laughs) But I realized that I couldn’t deliver quite the same performance. Speaking English makes you act slightly differently. Both your voice and your face are different. I am very sensitive to that.

This summer, the Dutch Eye Film Museum organized a retrospective of your films. Do you sometimes look back?
HUPPERT: I rarely look back, but retrospectives are simply a fact of life if you are an actress, and then you have to think about the past. I am proud and happy that film museums organize such events. It is always reassuring when your work pops up somewhere. But don’t ask me to name a favourite film because I love them all equally. I sometimes coincidentally see an old film of mine and it might make me feel amused, bored, or indifferent.

They don’t really affect me. It is not some major event. And as far as I am concerned, there has been no great evolution. My style has not changed drastically. The roles have changed, of course, and each role demands something different. Most of it was already there at the beginning, though.

As a living and working actress, I don’t want to invest too much time in looking back. I don’t believe in my own mythology enough to spend too much time digging in the past. My present and my future interest me far more. (Little laugh) Incidentally, at the moment my present is not so much about film but about theatre. I am performing in Mary Said What She Said by the American director Robert Wilson. It’s a monologue by the Scottish queen Mary Stuart on the eve of her execution.

Are there any films that you are not proud of?
HUPPERT: No. I have been very lucky.

In addition to film, you have developed an impressive theatre career, but you seem to be much less interested in television roles. Why is that?
HUPPERT: It is not that I avoid television completely; I play a very exaggerated version of myself in Dix pour cent, for example. But I accepted the role because director Marc Fitoussi is a friend of mine. I also acted in two of his films. In Copacabana, which was filmed in Ostend, I performed opposite my daughter Lolita Chammah. I’ll never forget it.

I was also in one episode of The Romanoffs by Matthew Weiner, the man who made the popular AMC show Mad Men. I don’t refuse to do TV shows, and I have certain ideas about characters that you watch over a longer period of time. To me, the major power of television is the possibility of developing something over a long time. But you will never get me to say that the aesthetics of a TV show can be equated to those of films. Films are films, TV shows are TV shows.

It would not be in your own interests to do so. Don’t you own a cinema in Paris?
HUPPERT: We own two cinemas, but I am not very involved. My son runs them. Business is good and I am quite proud of that in this era of Netflix.

At your current rate, you will soon have clocked up one hundred and fifty films. Why do you keep working so hard?
HUPPERT: It might seem as though I work continuously, but it’s not really true. I work a lot, but not all the time. Not every day. I certainly don’t accept every role that is offered to me. In fact, I have noticed that I am getting pickier than I used to be.

  • FRANKIE - FR, PT, dir.: Ira Sachs, act.: Isabelle Huppert, Jérémie Renier, Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson. Release: 28/8
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