John & Isabelle

On July 30th, the Walter Reader Theater was filled to the brim with perverse New Yorkers itching to hear from two masters of expertly crafted shock and awe. John Waters took to the stage first, there to introduce his “favorite actress in the world,” Isabelle Huppert. The Film Society of Lincoln Center arranged for an evening of screenings and discussion with the formidable French thespian, beginning with her most recent film, Catherine Breillat’s autobiographical Abuse of Weakness. 

Waters is unsurprisingly a fan of Huppert’s latest work, vividly embodying the stroke-ravaged Breillat in a true story involving her friendship/non-sexual love affair with a world famous con-man. Also unsurprising is the outcome: Breillat (who assumes the name Maud Schoenberg in the film) is swindled out of 800,000 euros through a series of “perfect,” as Waters described them, sado-masochistic exchanges with the hustler. Their back-and-forth, while humorous at times, is ultimately heartbreaking, and Huppert is superb in a challenging physical performance.

For his part, Waters brimmed over with adoration for a woman he clearly idolizes. “Watch out for her S&M orthopedic boots,” he gushed; and later, “My favorite scenes are when she falls down! I know, it’s awful.” Finally, he introduced Huppert with a wonderful flourish: “Watch her hang up a phone in this film. No one does it the way she can! I only hope she’ll hang up on me someday--Isabelle Huppert!”

What followed was not only a screening of Abuse of Weakness, but also an epic conversation between the two cinephiles, full of laughter and wit. Huppert shot back as Waters dished out; in the end a perfect combination. Here are the ten best moments from their exchange:

On Catherine Breillat’s new film, Abuse of Weakness:

John: Did you feel it was painful for her to make this movie?

Isabelle: No, no, I don’t think so. Certainly not as painful as what happened to her previously, you know?  It couldn’t be worse.

John: But don’t you get it?  I mean, she didn’t even get laid!

Isabelle: (off the mic) Hmm? What?

John: She didn’t even have sex with him!

Isabelle: Ah! Maybe if she had been...laid, is what you say? (laughs to self) It’s an English expression?

John: It’s a low class American one.  I got plenty of ‘em!

On saying “no”:

John: I really salute your nerve.  Your career has been amazing, and you make such brave choices. What could make you say no?

Isabelle: I say no to a lot of things. I’m not an easy girl!

John: Do you ever get offered the role of the girlfriend or wife?

Isabelle: Well it depends. Is it the story of the girlfriend? [Then] yes, I’d like to be the girlfriend! 

On playing young:

John: You’ve aged so beautifully. Can you act young? Beyond the makeup...

Isabelle: It’s not that I can. I do!

On regret:

John: And who else did you miss? Bergman?

Isabelle: Who did I miss? Ah, I don’t like to have regrets, but yes I regret Bergman, I regret Bunuel, I regret Renoir, I regret Hitchcock, I regret Douglas Sirk, I regret everybody! I regret you!