The Company She Keeps

Isabelle Huppert

Isabelle Huppert

Film critic Jim Hoberman once wrote that Isabelle Huppert was possibly the most essential actor in the world.  The truth of his ostensibly simple statement becomes obvious if you try to re-cast any of Huppert’s monumental and signature roles.

“An Evening With Isabelle Huppert” includes two films featuring her celebrated performances bookending an irresistible pairing–Huppert in conversation with director John Waters (also irreplaceable), who in Artforum in 2013 called her his “favorite actress in the world.”

In Catherine Breillat’s latest film, the semi-autobiographical “Abuse of Weakness” (2013), Huppert plays a director struggling to recover her life and work after a devastating stroke. Preparing to make a new film although still mentally and physically shaky, she casts a charismatic con artist, “swindler of the stars,” Christophe Rocancourt (French/Portuguese rapper Kool Shen).  And in a strange state of simultaneous self-awareness and delusion she becomes obsessed with him, and his victim.

Huppert won the Best Actress prize in Cannes for her fearless portrayal of Erika in “The Piano Teacher” (2001), directed by Michael Haneke, and based on Elfriede Jelinek’s novel, an unnerving exploration of repression, masochism and “the kinky underside of elegance.”

“An Evening With Isabelle Huppert” will take place on Wednesday, July 30, 6:00 pm, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center‘s Walter Reade Theater.  The screening of “Abuse of Weakness” will be followed by the Huppert/Waters conversation.  Huppert will introduce the 9:00 pm screening of “The Piano Teacher.”

“Abuse of Weakness” will open on Friday, August 15 in New York for a one-week run at Film Society’s Elinor Bunim Munroe Film Center and in Los Angeles on Friday, August 22 at Laemmle’s Royal Theater.

Before the first shoot I did with Isabelle Huppert, she required my portfolio to be sent to her in Paris (this was in the dawn of digital days).  And arriving in my studio, she scrutinized my lighting set-up and with approval, sat down to begin our shoot.

Although I had seen Huppert in countless films, when I asked her to lower her head, I suddenly realized how much she looked like Greta Garbo.  I told her and she responded, “I know”–there was no more vanity in her statement than if I acknowledged that I have good photo equipment, just a simple recognition of tools.

That image (top) was included in the spectacular book, “Isabelle Huppert: La femme aux portraits,” which has essays by Elfriede Jelinek, Patrice Chereau and Susan Sontag.  The images in the book were mounted as a traveling show.  In New York at MoMA PS 1, my portrait was hung next to Cartier-Bresson’s and my mother-in-law, Thu Stern, reported that in Paris I was next to Avedon.  Thrilling.

Catherine Breillat

Catherine Breillat

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