The Isabelle Huppert Revelation

French actress Isabelle Huppert

There was a period of time from around 2000 to 2012 when it seemed like every major French movie that received distribution in the U.S. featured Isabelle Huppert as the female lead. Did she have some kind of special deal with the import/export office? Couldn’t Miou-Miou, Natalie Baye, Isabelle Adjani, Fanny Ardant or some other French actress close to the same age get some equal representation? Don’t get me wrong. Huppert’s talent as an actress is indisputable and she probably deserved the Best Actress Oscar for her go-for-broke performance in The Piano Teacher (2001), which received zero nominations from the Academy.

It’s also heartening to see any actress past the age of fifty getting steady work and not being relegated to a supporting role as the mother or grandmother of the 20-something female lead. No, the issue here is overexposure (Catherine Deneuve had the same problem for years). More importantly, Huppert often seems drawn to variations of the same edgy, extreme character in film after film which can get monotonous if you happened to see her consecutively in Ma Mere (2004), Les Soeurs Fachees (2004) and Gabrielle (2005). Not a hard feat to do since she averages anywhere between one to three movies a year.  So, it was with some trepidation that I approached Private Property (2006, French title: Nue Propriete), by Belgium director Joachim Lafosse with – who else? – Isabelle Huppert in the lead. And once again she’s playing a neurotic and difficult character but there’s something quite different about this one.

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Johnny Cash in His Film Debut

Even hardcore fans of the “Man in Black” might not know that back in 1961 the bad boy of country-western music decided to dabble in motion pictures and made his film debut in a low-budget wonder entitled Five Minutes to Live (aka Door to Door Maniac). It’s an enjoyably trashy genre mash-up that is part bank heist thriller, part home invasion psychodrama and part family sitcom in the style of Father Knows Best. Plus, in addition to Cash chewing up the scenery, the cast includes Country Music Hall of Famer Merle Travis as a bowling alley manager, little Ronnie Howard (who was already appearing on television in such series as Dennis the Menace and The Andy Griffith Show) and Vic Tayback, the Emmy-nominated co-star of the TV series Alice. It’s not their finest hour but if you’re a Cash fan or appreciate wild card obscurities like Blast of Silence (1961) or Shack Out on 101(1955), you know you want to see it.       

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The Great Displacement

At the end of WW2, it was estimated that more than 6 million people had been displaced from their homes and roughly 180,000 of these were children. Some were concentration camp survivors, other were orphaned or separated from their families, hiding in monasteries or living with strangers. There have been a handful of films that dealt with this traumatic situation and Fred Zinnemann’s The Search (1948) is probably the most famous post-war American film on the subject. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and won a special Juvenile Oscar for Ivan Jandl as a homeless kid separated from his Czech mother. Europe also produced some landmark films about displaced children during WW2 including Roberto Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero (1948) and Rene Clement’s Forbidden Games (1952) but Somewhere in Europe aka It Happened in Europe (Hungarian title: Valahol Europaban) from Hungarian director Geza von Radvanyi was one of the first films to address war orphans trying to fend for themselves. Released in 1947, the film is less well known than other post-war dramas from the same period but it is a harrowing portrait of a dire situation affecting Eastern Europe, especially Hungary, during the final days of the war.

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Superdrago to the Rescue

One of countless Eurospy actioners released in the wake of the James Bond film craze in the sixties, Secret Agent Super Dragon (aka New York chiama Superdrago, 1966) has been mercilessly ridiculed on MST3K but served straight up, it’s often funnier in its own poker-faced way and has some oddball flourishes to set it apart from its fellow spy wannabes. I know it denotes a certain immaturity in the writer to even do a post on this, yet I am compelled…I must!

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