“I don’t have any mission,” Isabelle Huppert said to a journalist at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. “To me, [acting] is an adventure. My internal adventure, which is sometimes very selfish. I don’t have any duty or mission. I do things that I enjoy and I don’t do it because I’m generous. I don’t want to fulfill any mission with my work.”
But Huppert – whether she wanted to or not – has certainly fulfilled film lovers around the world. Her work over the past three decades – both in her native France and internationally – has made her one of her generation’s most prolific actresses. It also landed her in Karlovy Vary, where she received the festival’s Crystal Globe, an annual award given for “outstanding contribution to world cinema.”
“It means a lot, I’m very, very happy,” Huppert said to the audience at the Grand Hall after festival president Jiri Bartoska handed her the throphy. “I know that Karlovy Vary has a very, very old and important story. It’s the heart of the cinephilia, and I’m not surprised that so many young people and so many audiences come to see films here in Karlovy Vary, and I think it’s really a great place and I know it has a very beautiful history.”
Beautiful as Karlovy Vary may be, at the press conference that preceded the ceremony, a different festival was on the minds of journalists. Many were still curious about Huppert’s recent trip to Cannes, where rumors suggested her tenure as that festival’s jury president was met with conflict from some of her fellow jurors.
“When you are a member of a jury,” she explained, avoiding the journalist’s coy request for more substanial gossip, “The prizes speak for themselves. The fact that we rewarded ‘The White Ribbon’ and ‘Antichrist’ speaks for itself. If a film is awarded, it means we liked it.”
Journalists pressed on, and Huppert continued with grace. When one journalist asked if she was exhausted from the experience at Cannes, and if that made her weary of coming to another film festival, she replied quite passionately.
“I could never be tired of film,” she said. “The more films you see, the more appetite you have for it. I don’t think I could become overwhelmed or exhausted. For me, both of these festivals have been great experiences. I like making films, I like watching films. A festival, for me, means a special opportunity as a spectator, as an actress.”
She did question whether film – in today’s economic climate at least – was always the best route for her as an actress.
“At the theater,” she said, “it’s an adventure. Perhaps films doesn’t always give me that same feeling. At least right now, when it’s very difficult to make the films you want to make. The theater is still a place where anything is possible. Adventure is still possible. You also have an immediate response. So for me, in this respect theater is more open.”
Huppert’s fervor for her profession – whether on stage or in film – was clear throughout the discussion. She noted acting as “a journey,” both inside of her soul, and often, outside of her country.
“It’s interesting and it’s pleasant,” she said of her tendency to work in a wide variety of countries. “Ever since I started acting, I work outside France. In Germany, Italy, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Russia… It’s always interesting to work with someone who doesn’t belong to your own environment.”
As far as her soul is concerned, Huppert said that despite her tendency to take on heavy roles, she never feels any sort of negative impact after she’s done with one.
“When you make a film,” she said, “you are able to lift some sort of burden you have inside. That’s the point. When I make a film it’s not only artistic expression but an expression of myself. I’m getting rid of that burden. There’s no negative impact at all. It’s something that I find very easy… Put it this way: In acting, you can use all of the sides of yourself that you don’t use anywhere else. Like when you use the leftovers of a meal. It’s like that.”
Acting, though, is not something Huppert believes is easy – or even possible – for everyone. She argued that acting is not something you can simply learn to do.
“Perhaps it’s something you can develop,” she said. “Through classes. Classes make you more confident and develops your identity. But acting is not something you can learn. Acting is something very special… If a little girl told me she wanted to be an actress, I’d tell her that being actress is ‘something else.’ It’s an existence. An existence connected to deep emotion. I think if she really wants to be an actress, she will ultimately understand.”
The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival continues through this weekend.