Honours for Isabelle

Isabelle Huppert on colours and cats, Elle and Things To Come.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Isabelle Huppert on Elle: "I never worked with a trained cat before."
Isabelle Huppert on Elle: "I never worked with a trained cat before." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Guillaume Nicloux's Valley Of Love, Mia Hansen-Løve's Things To Come (L’Avenir), and Paul Verhoeven's Elle have one thing in common - Isabelle Huppert. Metrograph in New York honoured Huppert by programming Catherine Breillat's Abuse Of Weakness (Abus De faiblesse); Claire Denis' White Material; Ursula Meier's Home; Hal Hartley's Amateur; Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher and Hong Sang-soo's In Another Country.

Isabelle Huppert with Metrograph's Aliza Ma
Isabelle Huppert with Metrograph's Aliza Ma Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Isabelle spoke with Aliza Ma at Metrograph, following the screening of In Another Country about what two of her latest films have in common:

Isabelle Huppert: In both films there is a cat. In Things To Come it's a very, very big cat. Very heavy like an elephant. In Elle [France's Foreign Language Oscar submission] is a very different cat. It was a trained cat. I never worked with a trained cat before. When I was coming back to my house at night, he would jump in my arms, you know. Because it was a trained cat. Very strange to work with.

He was like an actor, you know … And also I have a crazy mother in both films. In both films, something happened to these two persons, women, and they, I, try to take control …

Anne-Katrin Titze: You mentioned costumes as a way into a role. I noticed in the film we just saw, the three different pairs of shoes you are wearing - which are completely different and give you a totally different walk. Did Hong Sang-soo pick those or did you have any input?

Isabelle Huppert: No, he picked everything. He picked my earrings, he picked everything. Really, completely. That's why I loved working with him. He was really very specific, he said: these shoes! And the blue shirt, for example in the beginning, I remember, I bought it in Manila. I brought it just by accident, it was more like a nightgown for me. And he said "No, that's the one I want." Are you sure? "Yes, yes, because that's the blue I want." Because he really works like a painter.

Anne-Katrin Titze presents Things To Come at David Schwartz's Cinema Arts Preview Club
Anne-Katrin Titze presents Things To Come at David Schwartz's Cinema Arts Preview Club Photo: Rachel Hart

With the shoes, you are very absolutely right. I think that most of the time the characters become … you find them in the shoes, actually. It doesn't come from here [points to her head] or from there [points to her heart], it comes from the shoes. Because the walking it gives you the body language and the body language is essential. And it's not the same to walk on high heels or to go on flat shoes.

Sometimes you walk on high heels with a kind of stumble. Where walking can give yourself a weakness or the contrary, a certain assurance. It's really, really important. In that case [with In Another Country] he could have easily told me, "I'd rather have you in high heels" especially with the third character." He said "No, you have to be on flat shoes."It's very important.

At the Cinema Arts Centre during David Schwartz's Cinema Arts Preview Club I presented Things To Come to an audience of 250 plus, followed by a Q&A.

Ten years ago, I met Isabelle Huppert at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris with Serge Toubiana (Kent Jones's Hitchcock/Truffaut). There was a fabulous Renoir father and son exhibition going on and we had champagne in the belly of the Cinémathèque. It was a rainy and gray wintry late afternoon and we talked about modern dance, Sarah Kane's plays, nail polish, Wanda director Barbara Loden, The Little Mermaid and how much Isabelle appreciates an attentive audience.

Metrograph program honouring Isabelle Huppert
Metrograph program honouring Isabelle Huppert Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In 2011, at the New York Film Festival, I remarked to Mia Hansen-Løve about her painterly use of colours, specifically the way she positions objects and clothes in reds, blues, and whites. She was happy, that I did not mistake it for metaphor, as it is the sensual quality that makes her place a red bikini in front of a bright blue summer sky. She referred to Eric Rohmer, who once said, that every film has a colour. “Obviously, this one is red.”

Biographical details find their way on the screen in Hansen-Løve's work. Her brother Sven, a DJ inspired and co-wrote her previous film Eden and Goodbye First Love had a lot in common with her first love. And yet - the films look far beyond examining her navel.

"Whenever something is too expository, when there seems to be an indication of what happens after, I strike it," the director said about her counter-Hollywood approach to foreshadowing. The director's parents who are both philosophy teachers appear to have influenced the characters in Things To Come.

David Schwartz: I'm not a cat person, but what's the anecdote about the cat?

Anne-Katrin Titze: Well, Hansen-Løve explained that there was a real family cat and that the cat's name was Desdemona. Mia Hansen-Løve wanted to call the cat in the film Desdemona. There is a lot in the film based on her mother's life. And that was the one point where her mother said - You can't do that. There's cat privacy, you know? You have to change the name.

Metrograph in New York City
Metrograph in New York City Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

So Desdemona became Pandora. Which I think is just wonderful. It makes me think of that New Yorker cartoon of the man standing next to the cat and the litter box, saying "Never, ever think outside the box."

Isabelle Huppert won Best Actress from the New York Film Critics Circle for her performances in Things To Come and Elle, and the Gotham Award for Best Actress in Elle.

Elle will open in the UK on March 10, 2017. Things To Come and Elle screened in the New York Film Festival and are in cinemas in the US.

Isabelle Huppert is currently working with director/writer Serge Bozon on Madame Hyde.

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