Film & Television

Isabelle Huppert, The Art of Aging Gloriously

Isabelle Huppert is another French actress who continues to thrive as she ages. At 63, she has worked in more than 100 movies and television programs since beginning her career at the age of 22. She earned a César Award (the French equivalent of the Academy Awards) for La Cérémonie in 1995, and holds the record for the most César nominations with 15. Other honors have included a BAFTA, a Lumière, and several top prizes from international film festivals. Throughout her career, she’s generated consistently good notices from audiences and critics alike. Roger Ebert once observed, “Isabelle Huppert makes one good film after another . . .  she is fearless. Directors can depend on her gift for conveying depression, compulsion, egotism and despair. She can be funny and charming, but then so can a lot of actors. She is in complete command of a face that regards the void with blankness.” Not to be outpaced by Deneuve, Huppert has five new films in post-production set for release in 2017.

Huppert’s two current movies are predicted to add more honors to her already impressive collection. They were released in the U.S. practically simultaneously (and in the case of my nearby Cambridge art theatre, they’re playing in next-door auditoriums).

In the first, titled Elle, Huppert plays Michèle, a determined businesswoman who runs a successful video game company. She has a complicated life, which includes an ex-husband dating a graduate student, a ne’er-do-well son with a pregnant girlfriend, an elderly mother who depends on botox to keep her young lover’s interest, and her own affair with her best friend’s husband. Michèle’s life changes when she is attacked and raped in her home by a masked assailant. She refuses to go to the police, and begins to suspect that her rapist is someone she knows. She becomes obsessed with tracking him down and rewriting what happened, effectively turning the tables on him by taking control. But, this isn’t a revenge story. Director Paul Verhoeven unflinchingly examines a variety of much more controversial issues about sexuality. The Hollywood Reporter has hailed Huppert’s Michèle as “the crowning performance of her career.” She has just received a Golden Globe nomination.

The second film, Things to Come (L’avenir) tells a somewhat lighter story, but resonates all the same. Huppert plays Nathalie, a philosophy teacher who also faces challenges, albeit less violent ones. She has a dying mother; she loses her job; and she learns that her husband is not only having an affair but has decided to move in with his mistress. Desperate, she responds, “I thought you would love me forever.” What follow is a potent mixture of fear and regret, as Nathalie takes stock of what she has accomplished and what her choices are for the future. Director Mia Hansen-Løve encourages Huppert to examine these issues in depth, finally finding hope and some redemption. Although her life has changed dramatically from its everyday (and from her inner vision of who she is), Nathalie finds reason and means to continue. Huppert’s performance has been hailed as “pitch perfect,” and Things to Come earned a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Although Huppert’s movies aren’t always easy to find in the States, these two powerful new films offer an interesting (and rewarding) study of how this wondrous actress brings disparate characters to life. American actresses (and more importantly, American directors and producers should take note). Huppert, at 63, demonstrates that you don’t have to age gracefully, you can age gloriously.

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