{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Friday, October 13, 2006

Isabelle Huppert

In an essay by English author Julian Barnes on Claude Chabrol's 1991 film Madame Bovary, he talks this about Isabelle Huppert.

Where other actresses give us a sort of pouty boredom that yet seek to flirt with the audience, Huppert offers severity, anger and an irritaion raised to the condition of nausea. She gives Emma a lucid awareness of her own condition: "She is a victim who does not behave like a victim." Huppert has a capacity to empty her face of expression in a way that both alarms and seduces; like Charles, we blunderingly want to make things right for her. And this harshness and frustuation are in place most of the way: She has the control and seeming lack of vanity to hold back her moments of full beauty to match those rare times (With Rodolphe and Leon, never with Charles) when the catching of happiness seems impossible.

I liked his description. Apart from her being the most enduring and intrepid actress, one thing that I always admire about Huppert, irrespective of the character she pays, is self-awareness (in lack of a better word). What ever she plays, a expert teacher or a homocidal post office worker, there is always an air of self awareness. She can never pass as a fool, even if she is playing one. Although she don't behave like a victim, she knows she is, quite well. Even in films like Ma mère, she courageously maintains that cold awareness of what she is, before being a mother, a prostitute. Although with her age, she might have lost that excruciating freckled innocence, but still maintains cold self-awareness that distances a viewer from her immediate pain for any quick sympathy and helps him/her to think about her character's condition. In 8 Women, which is all a campy black comedy, a satire and a parody, Huppert again plays her character with fearless cognizance. I will always remember the last act of The Piano Teacher, where the camera moves towards her face and the screen is filled with such pain and self-loathing that it hurts. Her harshness for self, grows into empathy in audiences, without her screaming for it.


Alok said...

I understand what you are saying. I haven't seen this film yet and want to see how she plays it.

Madame Bovary is I think very self-aware but her worldview and the way she thinks of herself is vitiated by the cheap romantic novels that she reads. So in that sense she is self-aware, in the sense that she has a complex inner life, and yet "wrong" about everything she is aware of. I use the word "wrong" with hesitation here because flaubert remains unjudgmental about romanticism and we readers are confused too.

I think she is too intelligent to play the role of madame bovary. I can believe how she can be indifferent to her husband and the daughter, but for an ideal out of a cheap romantic novel, naah!!!

She played a similar role in Claude Chabrol's Women's Affairs. She plays a cold hearted abortionist and it is really chilling.

Alok said...

I saw this book at a bookstore recently. It is a brilliant collection of her photographs.

this is what the description says:

Isabelle Huppert stands out among actresses due to her audacious choices of roles, both for films as well as for the theater. Her intelligence and intuition are evident in the parts she plays. Her renown as an actress is not limited to the French cinema but embraces Europe and the rest of the world.

This most mysterious of actresses likes to be photographed but she is not an easy subject. She offers herself to the eye of the camera yet remains secretive, almost absent. The great photographers of our time—Richard Avedon, Edouard Boubat, Guy Bourdin, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliot Erwitt, Lartigues, Annie Leibovitz, Steven Meisel, Helmut Newton, Sylvia Plachy, Marc Riboud, and Scavullo—took up the challenge. Huppert’s energy and strength are often shrouded behind a kind of melancholy, and these photographers have captured beautifully that contradictory quality. Not only a collection of gorgeous images, this haunting book also unveils the bond between the public image and the secret soul of this unique woman.

I felt tempted to buy it but it was a little costly. I think i will order it from amazon.

Alok said...

Did I tell you, the gene siskel film center in chicago had a film festival of her films early this year. I saw Chabrol's Le Ceremonie there. There was also an exhibition of her photographs, though not that many, in their art gallery. I think I can be considered a devotee, even though I haven't seen many of her films.

Piano Teacher remains for me THE definitive acting performace by a woman that I have ever seen in movies.

anurag said...

Thanks Alok for commenting and giving the book from which I quoted. I will write about the other book you gave me, may be not in a seperate post but in some film post !

Sandesh Prabhakar said...

Frankly, I have not seen any of Huppert's movies till now. But you have given such a beautiful description about her emotions that it has aroused my desire to see how she expresses it in the movies...Hope to watch it soon.

anurag said...

Thanks a lot Sandesh for dropping by. I was on vacation so not able to reply. and do try to see some of Isabelle Huppert's films.