“A film is the reflection of the soul of its creator,” said jury President and actress Isabelle Huppert at the opening press conference for the Marrakech International Film Festival, setting an insightful, philosophical tone for the proceedings. That’s just the style of the legendary Huppert, deeply knowledgeable and reverent for the craft and spectatorship of cinema, and introspective about her her role in the process. The jury she heads up this week is made up of international cinema luminaries including Alan Rickman, Melanie Laurent, Christian Mungiu, Ritesh Batra, Betrand Bonello, Moumen Smihi, and Mario Martone. We had a chance to sit down with Mme. Huppert at the spectacular La Mamounia hotel in Marrakech to talk about her favorite directors, her approach to characters, and some of her favorite movies of the year.
Huppert has said in the past that the director is the first priority for her in choosing her projects, and she did not diverge from this during the conversation, saying that it’s director, then story, then character in the hierarchy of how she chooses projects, and that, “I still believe in the power of the director on the subjective view on the film.” When asked about a director she’d like to work with, but hasn’t yet, she mentioned David Cronenberg and the challenges that he presents for actors, saying, “He gives great opportunities for actors. You can deliver very daring performances with him.”
Huppert has had a continuous working relationship with Michael Haneke, and he’s one of her favorite directors, though she refused to pick a favorite out of the ones that she’s worked with. Still, it’s clear she has a deep understanding and respect for Haneke, who directed her in “The Piano Teacher” and “Amour,” and said his work is “halfway between Bresson and Hitchcock, thats how I locate him in the vast universe of cinema.” She said that she likes that he’s, “so radical, so extreme, and yet using all of the tools that cinema can offer in terms of suspense, of tension.” Haneke is “uncompromising and yet caring about the audience. For me that’s the definition of a great director.”
Along those lines, the one commonality among the diverse group of directors that Huppert discussed is “the ability to let actors create their own landscape in the film. That’s the mark of how smart a director is if he lets you be what you are… letting you exist in your full persona. Not trying to change you but trying to make you resemble what you are not.”
She also discussed her upcoming project with “Oslo, August 31st” director Joachim Trier, “Louder Than Bombs,” which just wrapped shooting in New York. She described Trier as “an extremely powerful director, uncompromising and dealing with such ambitious subject matter in the best sense of the word.” She’s also working with Paul Verhoeven on “Elle,” an adaptation of the book “Oh…” by French writer Philippe Dijan. Huppert has been a longtime fan of Verhoeven’s (“one of the best directors in the world for me”), since his film “Turkish Delight,” which she described as “so brilliant.” As for “Elle,” she said that “the book is very powerful and the character is so strong, and when I learned Paul Verhoeven was going to do it, it’s just the cherry on the cake.”
In choosing roles, aside from the director and the story, Huppert tries to keep variety but also doesn’t force it, “it doesn’t bother me if I do five very dark roles in a row, five light roles in a row.” She also doesn’t try too hard to define the borders around genres, saying, “When you do it from the interior like i do you don’t establish any [borders]. You can find drama in comedy and you can find comedy in drama, you know. ‘The Piano Teacher’ sometimes was very funny for example. Or a comedy can be also moving and emotional sometimes.” She also surprisingly said she’d love to be in a big budget genre film, and though she works mostly with auteur-type directors, she cited Christopher Nolan as a big budget genre auteur.
A cinema purist, Huppert said that she vastly prefers to watch movies in the theater, that it’s “still for me the best way to watch movies.” She also mentioned “the privilege of being on a jury is that you watch movies every day in the best conditions.” When asked about some of her favorite movies of the year, she named “Boyhood” and “Love is Strange.”
With the ongoing technological changes in the form of streaming movies, such as Netflix, which just arrived in France, Huppert is optimistic about the continued strength of the collective cinematic experience saying, “A film is not a film if it doesn’t go through the theater. Otherwise, it’s not a film so we still have to make movies and take them in the theater and share the experience of watching movies in the movie house.” Thankfully we still have artists and thinkers such as herself to preserve that notion, and to keep making meaningful work that pushes the boundaries of cinema art.