November 21, 2016
Yesterday I had the enormous pleasure of seeing Isabelle Huppert do a live Q&A at The Metrograph in New York City. Huppert is widely considered to be one of the best actresses (if not the best) of her generation, and being in that room last night you definitely got the sense that you were in the presence of an icon.
My own personal admiration for her is comparable to how I feel about my favorite classic Hollywood actress, Barbara Stanwyck. They both have a quality of effortless perfection about their work. They are masters of their craft. They blend seamlessly into their roles and exude a powerful sense of confidence, but at the same time, both are able to tap into this authentic vulnerability that you rarely see on screen. And, as I learned last night, Huppert also emulates Stanwyck off-screen in her modesty, professionalism, grace, and wit.
Huppert chose all of the movies for her Metrograph retrospective (although I got the sense that Metrograph was unable to procure a lot of her choices. She kept asking about specific films that she thought she had included, but the moderator said they were unable to secure the rights or unable to obtain a copy. None of her Chabrol films were included for this reason, apparently.) including Abuse of Weakness, White Material, The Piano Teacher, Amateur, and Home. The Q&A I attended was preceded by a screening of her 2012 film In Another Country, by Hong Sang-soo.
I hadn't seen it before, but it easily entered my "favorite new-to me movies of the year" list. The film starts out with a girl dreaming up a screenplay to distract her from family problems. She dreams up three scenarios, each featuring a French woman visiting a small coastal town in South Korea. In the first segment, Huppert plays a director on holiday with the family of a South Korean filmmaker. In the second segment, she plays a married woman impatiently waiting for her famous lover to join her for a one-day tryst. In the third segment she plays a divorcee whose husband has just left her for his South Korean employee. In each scenario, she meets the same group of people and has similar but varying interactions with them -- asking a lifeguard for directions to a lighthouse, borrowing an umbrella from the girl who runs the hotel, eating barbecue with another family. The film is a light and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but I think the best word to describe it is sweet. And it had SUCH a perfect ending. When the last scene was ending I thought to myself "PLEASE let this be the last scene, it would be tragic if it continued after this. It's too perfect." Some movies just keep going past that sweet spot, but this one knew exactly where and how to end. I loved it.
As soon as the film was finished, Huppert came out for a Q&A. In the very first question she couldn't remember the word for "lighthouse" and someone from the audience helped her out. It was hilarious because one of the ongoing jokes (probably THE ongoing joke) in In Another Country centered around Huppert's character trying to communicate the word 'lighthouse' to the South Korean lifeguard. It really set the tone for an intimate, fun event where Huppert engaged with the audience as if we were all old friends.
Here are a few of my favorite anecdotes from the event:
- Somebody asked if there is any director she hasn't been able to work with yet that she'd love to. She was incredibly modest about it, trying to say that she only wants to work with people who want to work with her. But then she did kind of let it slip that she'd love to work with Woody Allen. I'm personally not a fan of his, but for her sake I hope word gets out to him. Isabelle Freaking Huppert wants to be in one of your movies, Woody. Make it happen.
- While working on Heaven's Gate, Godard came to Montana to visit Huppert, as they were going to be working on a movie together. She asked him if he could just give her an idea of what her character was going to be and he said "the face of suffering." haha! She also told her Heaven's Gate director, Michael Cimino, that Godard was visiting and he excitedly asked if she could bring him around to the set. She passed the message on to Godard and he said he was too tired. He just stayed in his hotel and never visited the set.
- Huppert was VERY impressed with her feline costar in her 2016 film Elle. She said it was a trained cat and it was the first time she ever worked with a cat that was basically an actor.
- Huppert and her family own a repertory theater in Paris in the 6th arrondissement. She said her son does all of the programming now, and it looks like right now they're wrapping up a Lauren Bacall retrospective! I'm definitely going to check this out next time I'm in Paris!
- In Another Country was shot in NINE DAYS. Huppert was talking to director Hong Sang-soo about his next project and he causally asked if she'd want to be in it. He had no script, no plot, no plans except for the location. She agreed and the next month she flew to Seoul where she was met by the director and her male costar at the airport. Her hair was done at a beauty salon in Seoul, and her wardrobe in the film was selected from her own closet by the director. Sang-soo wrote the screenplay as they filmed, giving out scripts the night before shoots. Apparently they were intended to shoot for two weeks but after nine days he said "that's it!" and called a wrap. She said that their follow-up film (shot last year and scheduled to be released soon) was shot in only five days!
- She said she doesn't like to call her roles "characters." She prefers to just think of them as other people, who are also her. I honestly think this is more than semantics, it's indicative of how much her (I don't want to say characters but) characters feel like real people.
All in all, this was an incredibly fun evening and I'm so glad that I braved the harsh winds yesterday to go out for this event. And now I'm even more determined to track down more of Isabelle Huppert's films. As of now I've mostly limited myself to the ones I've been able to stream on Fandor, Hulu (now FilmStruck), or Mubi. But now I think I'm going to have to start tracking down those elusive DVDs. Oh boy!