Isabelle Huppert: interview

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Now aged 55, the ever-youthful French actress Isabelle Huppert talks to Time Out about her latest starring role in 'Home'

Isabelle Huppert  has been a dominant figure in French cinema and theatre for four decades, working with great French directors like Claude Chabrol, Michael Haneke and Claire Denis. In her latest film, first-time French-Swiss director Ursula Meier's radical family fable ‘Home’, she plays one part of an accidental quartet of unorthodox mothers.

Ursula Meier’s ‘Home’ is about a family who live an isolated but happy existence beside a disused motorway, but fall apart when the road opens. How did you come to get  involved with this unusual project?
‘I was given the script when I was in Belgium making Joachim Lafosse’s "Private Property". Joachim talked to me very positively about it and suggested very strongly that I should do it. It was a good connection and a very good approach. I found the script was very special, very detailed. It was never psychological, but it expressed what the movie would  turn out to be.

Also, it was produced by Denis Freyd, a very good French producer who has worked with the Dardennes Brothers and Abderrahmane Sissako, with whom I had worked before on ‘Saint Cyr’ – so all the connections were very good.’

You have played mothers in a number of your recent films…
‘Strangely enough, I have played four different people in four different films, but all involving the same kind of role: that is, mothers who, sometimes madly or desperately, have been attached to a piece of land and have not, for one reason or another, been prepared to leave it. Or have been forced to leave it – as in "Private Property". 

I play the mother in Rithy Panh’s (upcoming, Cambodia-set) "The Sea Wall", from the book by Marguerite Duras, and in Claire Denis’s  (also upcoming) ‘White Materials’, I play a mother in Cameroon who is madly attached to her family and the home. It’s very strange – it’s four totally different environments and backgrounds – but the core of the characters is very similar.

At first, I thought I can’t do four roles the same, but then I took it the other way round and thought, on the contrary, I should do it, because it would be fascinating to try four variations of basically the same character in four totally different films.’

What was the challenge in ‘Home’?

‘What is different about "Home" is that it plays on several different levels. It’s not psychological, it’s more like a fable, you know.  It’s not just realistic, but also surrealistic. And the characters in the film are like archetypes. The mother, the father and the three children – it’s like an example of any family in the world. It’s not just a portrait of a family in this particular situation.

Marthe, the mother, feels she’s in a paradise. But when the outside world makes itself felt, she feels that if she leaves, she will have to confront things that she doesn’t want to confront. Her situation seems protective but, in fact, it’s more like a prison. What’s great about ‘Home’ is that it is always taking definitions like that – the idea of paradise – and redefining them as something else – in this case a prison.’

You’re known for your adventurousness in the roles you take on. What is your attitude to working with new talent like Ursula Meier?
‘I respond to a good role in a good film. I’m not here to help them, you know. In general, you have to compromise with the reality of what is offered to you or is not offered to you.  But for me, the motivation is working with interesting directors. If  you take for  example "The Piano Teacher", I definitely did it with Michael Haneke, but I wouldn’t have done it  with anyone else. Picking a good director, a good part, a good role, is 80 percent of the task. But, if Michael Haneke or Claude Chabrol comes to me, I do it anyway, without reading the script.’

You still manage to combine successfully your film with your theatre work
‘I do a lot of theatre, so I can’t do more. For instance, next winter we will be doing Tennessee Williams’s “Streetcar Named Desire” at the Odéon in Paris directed by this great Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski. Before that I’ll also be doing “Quartet” with Bob Wilson in Brazil and in New York I’ll be doing Sarah Kane’s “4.48 Psychosis” for the Brooklyn Academy of Music.’

Did you enjoy your role as Jury President at this year’s Cannes Film Festival?
‘Oh, it was great. It was wonderful. I loved doing it. I’ve been a jury member before and been to Cannes many, many times (winning Best Actress there twice). But it was even better than I expected and very, very interesting.’

Do you feel the state of cinema is healthy these days?
‘There’s always things about cinema to worry about: it’s a question of keeping things alive. It’s always a battle to make ambitious things happen – that’s not new. But, in general, I think it’s a good situation in France at the moment.’

Author: Interview: Wally Hammond



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