Borders of the abnormal

Isabelle Huppert in conversation with John Waters.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

John Waters gets serious with Isabelle Huppert at the Film Society of Lincoln Center: "So Michael Haneke, he's a a real laugh riot, I bet?"
John Waters gets serious with Isabelle Huppert at the Film Society of Lincoln Center: "So Michael Haneke, he's a a real laugh riot, I bet?" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

An Evening with Isabelle Huppert, the star of Catherine Breillat's Abuse Of Weakness (Abus De Faiblesse) was held at the Film Society of Lincoln Center with John Waters. Discussing Michael Haneke's sense of humor, Barbara Loden's Wanda - Andy Warhol connection, working with Werner Schroeter and not Fassbinder, lead to Huppert wishing she had worked with Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel, Jean Renoir, Douglas Sirk, Alfred Hitchcock and Waters himself. Marguerite Duras, Jean-Luc Godard, Nathalie Sarraute ending with a David O. Russell - Lily Tomlin moment rounded out the evening.

Huppert will be starring with Cate Blanchett and Elizabeth Debicki in the Sydney Theatre Company production of Jean Genet's The Maids, starting next week during the Lincoln Center Festival.

Isabelle Huppert foreshadows John Waters with Dennis Lim: "Sometimes there's more difference between two women directors than between a woman and a man. It doesn't go by gender."
Isabelle Huppert foreshadows John Waters with Dennis Lim: "Sometimes there's more difference between two women directors than between a woman and a man. It doesn't go by gender." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In Abuse Of Weakness, Maud, played by Huppert who is formidable in every scene and gesture, wakes up one morning under fresh white sheets and notices that there is something wrong with her left arm. She tries to get up and collapses. The tapestry of her world was struck down and her soul went into battle. Now, she cannot draw a clock with the numbers any more. She is progressing slowly and tells the speech therapist in one of the most potent hospital scenes on film what is missing. "I would like to laugh. I very much like to laugh."

Dennis Lim, Director of Programming for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, introduced John Waters who welcomed Isabelle Huppert to the Walter Reade Theater stage following a screening of Abuse Of Weakness.

John Waters: I read a few things the director (Breillat) said about this movie. She said, being an artist means revealing one's weakness to others. I thought it was the opposite.

Isabelle Huppert: Yes - revealing your weakness.

JW: Because I think being an artist means you hide your weakness.

IH: Maybe you do.

JW: Did she say to you if you want to make a film with me before I die, it's now or never? That's what she is quoted as saying.

During last year's New York Film Festival, I interviewed Catherine Breillat and she told me: Several times before I wanted to work with Isabelle. She not really refused. This time I took the phone and said "Isabelle, if you want to shoot a movie with me, then do this one. You have to interpret this character because afterwards you cannot make a movie with me because perhaps I will be dying."

IH: She said a lot of things, actually. She said, this movie is not a movie about me, it's a movie from me. She managed to turn it into a fiction, an object of cinema. I think that was really important for her. To steer away from her own story and see it as a fiction. Actually, I'm the most fictionalised element in the story because obviously, even if the story is hers, and that is what happened to her - the stroke and the attachment to the man - I am not Catherine.

Isabelle Huppert charms John Waters: "Monstrosity, most of the time, is just a mask of normality."
Isabelle Huppert charms John Waters: "Monstrosity, most of the time, is just a mask of normality." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JW: You make the most brave choices. What could make you say 'NO'?

IH: I say 'no' to a lot of things. I'm not an easy girl.

JW: Oh, I'm sure. Do you ever get offered the role of the girlfriend or the wife?

IH: If it is the story of the girlfriend - then yes. Most of the roles I was playing were more like survivors or victims or people who have to fight for their desires or their living.

JW: Maybe this [Abuse of Weakness] was your idea of a romantic comedy?

IH: In the most dramatic films there are some funny moments. Even in The Piano Teacher you have funny moments.

JW: You said once, if you're recorded correctly, that actresses want people to look at you but don't want people to see you. You get that?

IH: I do.

JW: You never worked with Fasssbinder?

IH: No, but I worked with Werner Schroeter. And when I think of Werner, I think of you. He was great inspiration for the great German directors from the Seventies. I did a movie with him called Malina, based on a book by Ingeborg Bachmann who was a great Austrian poetess, a writer who died burnt in her bed with cigarettes. And I did another film with him called Two. I was playing Two.

John Waters on the making of Loden's Wanda: "My friend told me that they had the rehearsals in Warhol's Factory."
John Waters on the making of Loden's Wanda: "My friend told me that they had the rehearsals in Warhol's Factory." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JW: Who else did you miss that you regret [never working with]? Bergman?

IH: I don't like to regret, but of course. I regret Bergman. I regret Buñuel. I regret Renoir. I regret Hitchcock. I regret Douglas Sirk. And I regret you.

Next, Waters gives her a list of filmmakers it seems he would like her to work with, Gaspar Noé, Ulrich Seidl, Bruno Dumont. Yes, why not? Huppert says to all his suggestions.

JW: You love playing bad women?

IH: No, I don't think I love playing bad women. Actually, I don't think I ever played a bad woman. I played women in bad situations.

JW: One of my all time favorite films you ever made is Story Of Women (Chabrol. 1988), the abortion movie. I love abortion movies anyway... Did you get hassled?

IH: No, I didn't get hassled. About that provocative scene about the Virgin Mary - it still stirs people's minds. It still agitates. Narrow-minded people.

JW: When I met you before, your husband was distributing a film called Wanda (written and directed by Barbara Loden), one of my all time favorite movies. Why don't you remake that?

Three feet at the Film Society of Lincoln Center
Three feet at the Film Society of Lincoln Center Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

IH: Barbara Loden was just amazing. I met Elia Kazan after she died, just at the time The Lacemaker was released. I see a connection between the two characters in a way. Somebody very uncertain - that's what she projected on screen. She was really amazing, so moving and so strange and so mysterious.

JW: My friend told me that they had the rehearsals in Warhol's Factory. That's where they did the rehearsals for the movie, when they were making Wanda. He [Kazan, Loden's husband] didn't want her to be a director. He belittled her.

IH: He was very mean to her. The movie is really about how to make movies in a way. Exactly like a movie by Godard. When Godard would talk about people who make movies like crooks. Crooks trying to sneak money or to smuggle money. She is risk taking about the creative process - how you fight for creativity.

JW: There are some really great lines in [Wanda], too. "Don't touch my head, ever." That's such a good line - So, Michael Haneke, he's a a real laugh riot, I bet?

IH: Of course he is, much funnier than you think.

JW: Do you ever crack up in the middle of a really extreme scene?

IH: What do you mean, crack up? He is very funny. He is Viennese. He is an Austrian. You know the tradition of great Austrian literature like Karl Kraus and even Thomas Bernhard. Michael is in this lineage of creative writers and filmmakers. So yes, he is funny, I think.

JW: Do you always want to ad lib? I think there's too much of it. I'm in the Writers Guild. You see movies where you can tell [it is improvised]. When you can tell, I don't think it's good.

John Waters shares a laugh with Isabelle Huppert: "Do you ever crack up in the middle of a really extreme scene?"
John Waters shares a laugh with Isabelle Huppert: "Do you ever crack up in the middle of a really extreme scene?" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

IH: Bob Wilson, with whom I've worked a lot, three or four times, always says, acting by definition is improvisation.

JW: You said: "I like exploring monsters' instincts."

IH: Monstrosity as something very normal, not something unrecognisable. Monstrosity, most of the time, is just a mask of normality. It's what as actors we like to explore - the very blurred kind of border between normality and abnormality.

JW: Since you played so many characters that are extreme, do strangers confide in you, because maybe you'll understand? It happens to me all the time.

IH: No!

JW: Do you read reviews?

IH: The good ones.

JW: Here's a negative one. This one made me laugh. "The Piano Teacher is the sort of film that discourages an American audience from ever wanting to see another foreign film."

IH: Where did you see that?

JW: It was in Palm Springs.

IH: I've been to Palm Springs.

JW: Are women directors that are extreme any different?

IH: Nathalie Sarraute, I knew her well, kept saying, for her there is no female literature. She really put it as a statement. I'm not far from thinking the same. With filmmakers, I don't think there's a male and female way - I wouldn't put a border between the two. Sometimes there's more difference between two women directors than between a woman and a man. It doesn't go by gender.

Isabelle Huppert as Maud: "Maybe this [Abuse of Weakness] was your idea of a romantic comedy."
Isabelle Huppert as Maud: "Maybe this [Abuse of Weakness] was your idea of a romantic comedy."

JW: Were you friends with Marguerite Duras?

IH: I'm not sure you could be friends with Marguerite Duras. I knew her.

JW: I knew her and she said, I don't care if anybody ever sees my movies.

IH: As a novelist she was very interested in people as elements of fiction in a way. She liked to listen to you.

JW: Next week you are opening with The Maids. Wouldn't Genet have been your best director if he was alive?

IH: Yes. I've done [the play] six weeks last year and we do it again with Cate next week.

JW: Do you know what your next movie is?

IH: I know what my two next movies are. One will be with Norwegian director Joachim Trier. He did a movie called Oslo, August 31st. And we are shooting his next movie here in New York with Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg. And I'm shooting another movie in Death Valley with Gérard Depardieu with French director Guillaume Nicloux with whom I did a film called The Nun a few years ago. It will be shot in Death Valley and it's called The Valley Of Love.

JW: I'm going to close with one of your most amazing performances. In the lead YouTube footage of Lily Tomlin and David O. Russell having a fight. And you are just sitting there with no reaction. Then suddenly, in the best Warholian move, you just check your makeup.

IH: Well, I was a little bit surprised. It was weird. But actually nothing really surprises me in a David O. Russell movie anyway. None of us knew what camera was on.

JW: Checking your makeup was such a perfect, perfect way to upstage everyone.

The Maids will run from August 6 - 16.

Abuse Of Weakness will open for an exclusive one-week run at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on August 15.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents Fifty Years Of John Waters: How Much Can You Take? from September 5 - 14 with a special sidebar: John Waters Presents: ‘Movies I’m Jealous I Didn't Make'.

Share this with others on...
News

Deconstructing oppressions Eva Husson on Girls Of The Sun and Martha Gellhorn

Handcrafting from scratch Cindy Hulej on Jim Jarmusch and Carmine Street Guitars

Reinventing herself Mia Hansen-Løve on Bergman Island, ghosts and Maya

Free children's show at EIFF Soundmoves: Music Movies marks collaboration with Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Cannes Un Certain Regard delivers diversity Women directors to the fore in selection

Karlovy Vary to honour Smutný and Chahine Festival will also commemorate Velvet Revolution

Malick, Almodóvar and Loach head for Cannes Women to the fore in official selection

More news and features

We're looking forward to the Tribeca Film Festival, Dundee horror spectacular Dundead and the Cannes Film Festival.



We still have reviews coming in from the Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival, New Directors/New Films, BFI Flare, the New York Rendez-Vous With French Cinema, the Glasgow Short Film Festival and SXSW.



Read our full for recent coverage.


Visit our festivals section.

Interact

More competitions coming soon.