Seated on an ivory wing chair at the old Goa Medical College building, one of the venues for the ongoing 50th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa, iconic French actor Isabelle Huppert says, with a glint in her eyes: “I’m here.” This is her response to the question on how French cinema has managed to create a wide rage of interesting characters for so many of its acclaimed female actors regardless of their age. She affirms that French cinema, which has artistes such as Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche, has regularly created strong and engaging roles for them even as she is someone who has often collborated with a number of directors who are not French.
Huppert, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award during the opening ceremony of IFFI, is wearing a multi-coloured dress with a belt and square dark shades. At 66, she is one of the top actors in the world. At this edition of Cannes Film Festival, her movie Frankie, directed by Ira Sachs, generated a lot of interest as well as bagged a bunch of nominations, including Best Actor Award for her.
Do awards and nominations still interest her? “It is always nice to get an award. Movie-making is a collective effort. Even though you take the award for yourself, the credit goes to the whole team,” she says. This year, she also created waves with her performance in Neil Jordan’s Greta, which she has described as one of her “darkest characters”.
Huppert has often intrigued her followers with her choice of roles, which includes some complex and dark characters in movies such as Violette Nozière (1978), La Cérémonie (1995) and The Piano Teacher (2001). When asked about the process of her preparation during a masterclass by journalist Anupama Chopra, Huppert says: “You can’t really do much prep because it depends on a lot of things. How is the scene going to be shot, close-ups or long shots, and how the co-actor is going to respond. It’s all about trust. It makes the process very easy.”
On being asked how long did it take her to agree to play the title role of Elle, a businesswoman on the hunt for the man who raped her, Huppert answered that she didn’t take long. “It was based on a novel (titled Oh…). I read the book and met its author Philippe Djian who I knew from before. He said he wrote the book keeping me in mind.”
Credited for acting in more than 120 movies, Huppert is very “optimistic” about the future of cinema, the growth of OTT platforms and other forms of entertainment notwithstanding. According to her, cinema will be kept alive as long as the makers keep inventing “new cinematic languages”. As someone who has worked with some of the great directors of our time such as, Francois Ozon, Claude Chabrol and Bertrand Tavernier, Huppert says the best thing about them was that they gave her “freedom”. When she works on a new movie, especially if it is by a new director, she reads the script multiple times till she knows it very well before she signs on the dotted line. “There are so many elements involved when it comes to picking a role. It varies from project to project. It also depends on the roles and their complexities. I don’t like roles that are too sentimental,” says the actor, who made her debut in 1971.
The most-nominated actress for the César Award, the highest honour in France, believes that “cinema is subjective”. Talking about the “moral responsibility” of an actor, she quotes Michael Haneke, the director of her most talked-about movie The Piano Teacher: “As Haneke says, ‘You don’t send out messages through films. If you wants to send messages, then go to a post office’.” A movie is going to be understood differently depending on who is watching it. Ditto in case of other forms of art, like painting and theatre.”
The actor recently worked in a play called The Mother. Netflix now streams the series titled Call My Agent! (French title Dix pour cent) featuring her. How does she effortlessly switch between these different mediums? “I don’t feel different as an actress but it’s a different process for sure. It is like driving a car. Just the way you know how to shift gears, you know how to move when you face the camera,” she adds.