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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Marching into the Great Unknown

Do you like knowing what to expect when you go to a movie? Some moviegoers like everything laid out neatly and wrapped up at the end with no ambiguity. But when the director’s intentions and directorial choices are never made obvious or explicit, it can result in a baffling but memorable viewing experience. Welcome to Serge Bozon’s La France (2007), which had been widely praised at various film festivals (it was nominated for two awards at the Cannes Film Festival), but never made much of an impact on U.S. film critics and moviegoers.     

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