Frequently namechecked by critics, fellow actors and directors as one of the greatest screen actors alive, French actress Isabelle Huppert is the subject of the first of a series of impressive tributes to be made at this year’s Marrakech International Film Festival. She is also being honoured here by an eclectic, 11-movie sampling of her back catalogue, including 1980 Gerard Depardieu-starrer “Loulou”; Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher,” for which she won the second of her two Best Actress awards in Cannes; and her more recent work with Brillante Mendoza and Hong Sang-soo, “Captive” (reviewed here) and “In Another Country” (reviewed here).
And when we spoke with the actress yesterday, she was happy that the selection was well-curated. “When you choose, you have to lose something, by necessity,” she said, in reference to her immense list of credits, “but it’s a good choice.” But on the subject of retrospectives generally, she is more ambivalent “I don’t look back, I try to look forward… I never watch my own movies.” However it’s not for the usual squeamish reason of not liking to look at oneself onscreen -- “No, I like to see myself onscreen! I really enjoyed the [montage of retrospective] images that I saw.” Instead it seems, as in her work, Huppert is concerned with an authenticity of experience that, as as a participant as opposed to a pure spectator, she cannot attain in watching her own films. “I understand [films] belong to people’s memories, as they do for my own memory - I mean, movies that I see with other people in them -- but when you [act in them] it’s very specific. It’s a different job being an actress than being a spectator.”
Inevitably, given her recent string of films, the conversation moves to the internationalism of her profile, and the reasons for that. “By choice or by taste I traveled a lot from the very beginning. In a way… there’s this idea that movies are the 'country' of cinema and the cinema belongs to every country. And I always liked the idea of going everywhere, and when it was possible, visiting the little places in this ‘country’ of cinema.”
“In the past two years I went even further to explore this dimension, [going to the] Phillippines and Korea, and not like an exotic experience, because the funny thing about it is you go to the Phillippines and Korea and such remote countries from where I live, and you find yourself in such a familiar environment, because it’s the country of cinema," she continued. "So it’s going far but staying near, staying where I am. The further you go and yet you stay at home.”
Despite this nomadic urge, Huppert has a number of upcoming Hollywood films, which seems like a marked shift as, of all national cinemas, that of the U.S. is relatively underrepresented in Huppert’s career. We ask her if it was a conscious decision to start making more American films. “It’s always a conscious decision,” she replies “maybe not as a strategy but conscious as a desire, yes. Sometimes it could be less conscious, because the two last things I did in the States were really participations [as opposed to leads].” But when asked if she has historically been cautious in her relationship with Hollywood she laughs back, “No, no. They have been cautious of me.”
Of course, one of the most famous of her Hollywood forays was with the once-notorious but now rehabilitated Michael Cimino epic “Heaven’s Gate” (see our feature here) which Huppert refers to more as the kind of “great opportunity” that an actress responds to than as part of a deliberate plan to heighten her profile. “You don’t make such plans when you are an actress. You take things as they happen -- it’s impossible to make plans because you don’t control the whole situation. But you do respond to certain opportunities... I didn’t have any idea of doing an American career versus a French career. I don’t think anybody has such an idea, well, certainly not I.”
Among her American friends and admirers is James Gray, on this year’s jury here in Marrakech, who presented her tribute on Friday night. Sadly, they have no plans to work together as yet. “Not for the moment. I’ve known James for quite a few years, and then we shared that experience as jury members in Cannes… And French people love his movies, Chabrol was a great fan of his work, with reciprocity of course, but from when we saw ‘Little Odessa,’ his first movie, French people always responded very strongly to his work.”
And speaking of U.S. collaborations that aren’t going to happen, it seems David Gordon Green’s “Suspiria” remake, as we suspected, is currently shelved. “No, it’s the type of thing that has been announced regularly on the internet, but it’s not going to happen. I mean, we never know, but it’s not, for the moment.” We are manfully resisting the urge to type a sad face smiley right now, because Huppert as the head of a coven of modern-day witches, especially amongst the great supporting cast that was lined up, just feels weirdly necessary right now.