Dou­ble tri­umph her­alds Hup­pert’s mo­ment

French ac­tress of­ten com­pared to Meryl Streep is now an Os­car fa­vorite af­ter crit­ics fell for Elle, a re­cent film role that ex­em­pli­fies her taste for chal­leng­ing parts

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - ENTERTAINMENT - By FIACHRA GIB­BONS in Paris Agence France-Presse

Is­abelle Hup­pert, the French ac­tress whose dou­ble tri­umph at the Golden Globes puts her in pole po­si­tion for the Os­cars, is a wo­man who has never been afraid to sur­prise or shock.

Steely and fear­less, she has a his­tory of tak­ing on some of the tough­est roles in cin­ema from rape vic­tims to mur­der­ers to sado­masochists and abor­tion­ists.

Her stag­ger­ing per­for­mance in Elle, which won both best for­eign film at the Globes in Los An­ge­les last Sun­day and her best ac­tress, is typ­i­cal of her gift for mak­ing al­most un­bear­ably dark sto­ries not just watch­able but com­pelling.

In it she plays a busi­ness­woman, Michele, who is raped by a younger man only to track down him and in­vite him to din­ner.

Just when you think you can­not bear the ten­sion a minute more, she slowly achieves a kind of mas­tery over her at­tacker by ex­tract­ing her own plea­sure from him.

Di­rec­tor Paul Ver­ho­even told AFP that sev­eral top Amer­i­can ac­tresses turned down the role in the sub­ver­sive thriller be­cause it strayed dan­ger­ously far from bound­aries of the rape-re­venge genre.

So in­stead he set the film in France and asked 63-year-old Hup­pert to play the role.

The vet­eran Dutch-born maker of Ba­sic In­stinct and To­tal Re­call de­scribed Hup­pert as “the most fan­tas­tic ac­tor I’ve ever worked with, on a level that I did not know ex­isted”.

“I have never seen an ac­tor or ac­tress add so much to the movie that was not in the script.”

‘The French Meryl Streep’

Ver­ho­even is not the only one to have been bowled over by her in­tel­li­gence.

The late Amer­i­can writer and fem­i­nist Su­san Son­tag called her “a to­tal artist” and says she had never met “an ac­tor more in­tel­li­gent, or a per­son more in­tel­li­gent among ac­tors”.

Hup­pert is of­ten com­pared to Meryl Streep for her range and her mas­tery of both stage and screen.

But the Amer­i­can ac­tress has never em­braced the darker side of hu­man na­ture as read­ily as Hup­pert has in such con­tro­ver­sial classics as Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher.

That sear­ing por­trayal of a masochis­tic Vi­en­nese mu­sic pro­fes­sor won her both the best ac­tress at Cannes and the Euro­pean Film Awards in 2001.

“In film there are few things that scare me,” says the mother-of-three, who be­gan her ca­reer play­ing re­bel­lious freckly teenagers in the early 1970s.

Her big break­throughs came in the French road movie Les Valseuses (1972) — which also launched the ca­reer of Ger­ard Depar­dieu — and Jean-Luc Go­dard’s Ev­ery Man for Him­self, where she played a pros­ti­tute.

She was still stuck in a brothel for Elle,

Hup­pert gives the im­pres­sion of ob­serv­ing her­self at the same time that we, the au­di­ence, are ob­serv­ing her.” New York Times

her first big Amer­i­can role play­ing a madam in Michael Cimino’s com­mer­cially dis­as­trous Heaven’s Gate.

But her ca­reer has been built on play­ing pow­er­ful women.

She has of­ten used her al­most prim up­per-class ex­te­rior to con­trast a boil­ing emo­tional in­te­rior — her slight frame fur­ther con­ceal­ing the power within.

Icy charisma

Nor was she afraid to play the bitch for the late great French di­rec­tor Claude Chabrol with whom she of­ten worked, us­ing her icy charisma for great dark comic ef­fect in his dis­sec­tions of French bour­geois life.

Hav­ing long ad­mired her from afar, Amer­i­can crit­ics have bowed down be­fore Hup­pert de­spite “Elle” ’s slip­pery sub­ject mat­ter.

“This is one of those mo­ments when an ac­tress isn’t just hon­ored but anointed — li­on­ized for her bravura and dar­ing,” said Owen Gleiber­man of the movie bi­ble Va­ri­ety.

Her royal flush of crit­ics’ awards, with New York, Los An­ge­les, US na­tional film writ­ers all pro­claim­ing her per­for­mance the best of the year came de­spite Elle not mak­ing it onto the Os­car short­list of best for­eign films.

Justin Chang of the Los An­ge­les Times called her “one of the world’s great­est liv­ing ac­tresses” while the New York Times mar­veled at “her abil­ity to con­vey moral com­plex­ity in the most unique ways ... Hup­pert gives the im­pres­sion of ob­serv­ing her­self at the same time that we, the au­di­ence, are ob­serv­ing her.”

Ver­ho­even, whose ca­reer has been re­vived by the film af­ter the crit­i­cal catas­tro­phe of says: “That’s the beauty of it. She’s dis­cov­er­ing it as she goes, and is not afraid to feel that.

“I think there is al­ways a mys­tery to her act­ing,” he adds.

There is mys­tery too at how at 63 Hup­pert looks as beau­ti­ful as she did when she was a teenager. Asked at Cannes last year if there was a por­trait hid­den some­where in an attic, she laughed off the idea, cred­it­ing her genes from her Englishteacher mother and Jewish fa­ther, who sur­vived World War II in France by hid­ing his roots.

Linked with the pow­er­ful French pro­ducer Daniel Toscan du Plantier early in her ca­reer, she has had three chil­dren with her Le­banese-born part­ner Ron­ald Chammah, a pro­ducer and di­rec­tor, who she met on the set of a Chabrol film in the early 1980s.

ROBYN BECK / AFP

Ac­tress Is­abelle Hup­pert, win­ner of Best Ac­tress in a Mo­tion Pic­ture — Drama for poses in the press room dur­ing the 74th An­nual Golden Globe Awards. Is­abelle Hup­pert, ac­tress

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