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The 10 Best Moments From a Conversation with Isabelle Huppert and John Waters

The 10 Best Moments From a Conversation with Isabelle Huppert and John Waters

On July 30th, the
Walter Reader Theater was filled to the brim with perverse New Yorkers itching
to hear from two masters of expertly crafted shock and awe. John Waters took to
the stage first, there to introduce his “favorite actress in the world,”
Isabelle Huppert. The Film Society of Lincoln Center arranged for an evening of
screenings and discussion with the formidable French thespian, beginning with
her most recent film, Catherine Breillat’s autobiographical Abuse
of Weakness. 

Waters is
unsurprisingly a fan of Huppert’s latest work, vividly embodying the
stroke-ravaged Breillat in a true story involving her friendship/non-sexual
love affair with a world famous con-man. Also unsurprising is the outcome:
Breillat (who assumes the name Maud Schoenberg in the film) is swindled out of
800,000 euros through a series of “perfect,” as Waters described them,
sado-masochistic exchanges with the hustler. Their back-and-forth, while
humorous at times, is ultimately heartbreaking, and Huppert is superb in a
challenging physical performance.

For his part, Waters
brimmed over with adoration for a woman he clearly idolizes. “Watch out for her
S&M orthopedic boots,” he gushed; and later, “My favorite scenes are when
she falls down! I know, it’s awful.” Finally, he introduced Huppert with a
wonderful flourish: “Watch her hang up a phone in this film. No one does it the
way she can! I only hope she’ll hang up on me someday–Isabelle Huppert!”

What followed was not
only a screening of Abuse of Weakness, but also an epic conversation between
the two cinephiles, full of laughter and wit. Huppert shot back as Waters
dished out; in the end a perfect combination. Here are the ten best moments
from their exchange:

On Catherine Breillat’s new film, Abuse
of Weakness

John: Did
you feel it was painful for her to make this movie?

No, no, I don’t think so. Certainly not as painful as what happened to her
previously, you know?  It couldn’t be

John: But
don’t you get it?  I mean, she didn’t
even get laid!

(off the mic) Hmm? What?

John: She
didn’t even have sex with him!

Ah! Maybe if she had been…laid, is what you say? (laughs to self) It’s an
English expression?

It’s a low class American one.  I got
plenty of ‘em!

On saying “no”:

John: I
really salute your nerve.  Your career
has been amazing, and you make such brave choices. What could make you say

I say no to a lot of things. I’m not an easy girl!

John: Do
you ever get offered the role of the girlfriend or wife?

Well it depends. Is it the story of the girlfriend? [Then] yes, I’d like to be
the girlfriend!

On playing young:

You’ve aged so beautifully. Can you act young? Beyond the makeup…

It’s not that I can. I do!

On regret:

John: And
who else did you miss? Bergman?

Who did I miss? Ah, I don’t like to have regrets, but yes I regret Bergman, I
regret Bunuel, I regret Renoir, I regret Hitchcock, I regret Douglas Sirk, I
regret everybody! I regret you!

On “too far”:

Were your parents ever horrified by your movies? Did they ever see one and say,
“How could you?”

Maybe they thought, but they never said it.

John: Did
you ever do a movie and think, “I went too far?”

No, but in the future I might do! Never too late, never too late. Wait and see.

On gendered directing:

John: Are
women directors that are extreme any different? Like Claire Denis. I just
wonder, can you tell the difference?

There was a very famous French writer, and she kept saying, “There is no female
literature.” I am not far from thinking the same about filmmakers. I do not
think there is a female way of making movies, and I don’t think there is a
male. I would not draw a border between the two, so it is very hard to tell the
differences, if there even are. It doesn’t go by gender.

On developing working relationships:

I never ask questions of my directors.

John: Do
you ever fight with them?


They give you freedom, too, right?

It’s the least they could give me!

On exploring monstrosity:

John: You
said, “I like exploring monstrous instincts…”

Yes but again, as I said, I don’t think I ever play bad people. Monstrosity as
something very normal, as something unrecognizable because if monstrosity was
recognizable you might see it and avoid it. It’s a mask of normality. As actors
we like to explore this blurred border between normality and abnormality.

On reading reviews:

John: Do
you read reviews?

The good ones!

Well, what about, like this one made me laugh: “The Piano
discourages American
audiences from ever wanting to see another foreign film!”

Where did you read that?

That was in Palm Springs!

On Haneke:

John: So
Michael Haneke must be a laugh riot, right?

I laugh all the time with Michael Haneke!

And one last word from Isabelle, on why she is an amazing

Being in a creative
process is almost like a shelter [for me], so I cannot say I am intimidated
while working with people.

We are
intimidated, Ms. Huppert, by your overwhelming talent and daring (as evidenced
by a subsequent screening of Haneke’s 2001 exercise, The
Piano Teacher, which Huppert
elected to show after FSLC asked which of her films would be best to screen).

Thanks to Film
Society of Lincoln Center for hosting such a perversely lovely evening of film
and conversation. And thanks also to John Waters who will receive his own
complete retrospective at FSLC this September!


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