Critics' Picks: An Isabelle Huppert Primer

1:44 PM 1/12/2017

by Jordan Mintzer and Boyd van Hoeij

THR's Paris-based film critics Jordan Mintzer and Boyd Van Hoeij pick their 10 favorite performances by the French star, Golden Globe-winning 'Elle' leading lady and Oscar hopeful — all in movies that were released in the U.S. (listed here in chronological order).

Isabelle Hupert in 'Comedy of Power'
Isabelle Hupert in 'Comedy of Power'
Wild Bunch/Photofest
  • The Lacemaker

    1977

    New Yorker Films/Photofest

    Huppert leaves an indelible impression as 18-year-old Pomme, an inexperienced introvert who resists being changed by the young man who falls in love with her in Claude Goretta's film. The strength, complexity and hidden depths that would become Huppert hallmarks are all already in place in this performance, which won her Most Promising Newcomer at the BAFTAs. — Boyd Van Hoeij 

  • Every Man for Himself

    1980

    New Yorker Films/Photofest

    Jean-Luc Godard left behind his overtly political movies of the 1970s for this deconstructed three-part story set in Switzerland, in which Huppert portrays Isabelle (wink wink), a prostitute selling her wears to downbeat businessmen in a series of icy capitalistic transactions. It’s a performance that’s both bluntly detached and filled with bursts of energy, with certain scenes captured in mystifying slow-motion. — Jordan Mintzer

  • Heaven's Gate

    1980

    MGM/Photofest

    It didn’t take long for filmmakers overseas to notice Huppert, with her unique combination of diaphanous looks, mercurial demeanor and tenacity. In her first English-language role she played an independent-minded, wispy Quebec madam who can’t choose between two men (why limit yourself?). Shot over the course of a year, Michael Cimino's film famously went way over budget, flopped and sank United Artists, possibly denting a Hollywood future for the 27-year-old. But the quiet strength of her performance still stands. — B.V.H.

  • Loulou

    1980

    New Yorker Films/Photofest

    In this bizarre love triangle inspired by director Maurice Pialat’s own life, Huppert plays the titular Loulou: a free-spirited young woman who leaves her bourgeois husband behind for a violent petty criminal (played by Gerard Depardieu). Caught between two men fighting to hold on to her — not to mention a director famous for his explosive on-set antics — Huppert maintains a sense of sullen dignity and cheerless calm amid all the chaos. Loulou will get the man she wants, even if she pays a price. —  J.M.

  • La Cérémonie

    1995

    New Yorker Films/Photofest

    Huppert shot seven movies with the late New Wave auteur Claude Chabrol, making him the director she’s worked with the most — and often the best. In this 1995 thriller, inspired by Jean Genet’s play The Maids, she portrays a vindictive postal worker who teams up with a chambermaid (Sandrine Bonnaire) to take revenge on a snobby bourgeois couple. It’s one of Chabrol’s darkest, most devious films, with Huppert perfectly channeling the despair and rebellion of a working-class French gal. — J.M.

  • The Piano Teacher

    2001

    New Yorker Films/Photofest

    In a role that few actors could take on with such courage and class, Huppert plays Erika Kohut, a music instructor engaged in a torturous sado-masochistic tryst with a younger student (Benoit Magimel). Daring and disturbing, particularly in a stomach-churning self-mutilation scene, Huppert would be awarded for her efforts with a Best Actress prize at Cannes, while Michael Haneke’s provocative gloom-fest — adapted from a book by Nobel-winning author Elfriede Jelinek — would take home the Grand Prix. — J.M.

  • 8 Women

    2002

    Photofest

    Huppert is deservedly thought of as a leading lady, but she has no problems being an ensemble player. In this musical comedy from Francois Ozon, which plays like the colorful bastard child of Sirk and Agatha Christie, Huppert plays the ugly spinster sister of Catherine Deneuve's characters. She wears a pair of silly spectacles, sings, is hilariously bitter and shows off her perfect comic timing — something seen too infrequently. — B.V.H.

  • Comedy of Power

    2006

    Wild Bunch/Photofest

    In her seventh and last collaboration with Chabrol, Huppert incarnates a scrupulous investigative judge from the countryside who’s digging up dirt about powerful men (and only men). Like many of Chabrol’s films, the comedy is as wry and mordant as the characters are compromised. Thanks to Huppert’s shaded work, it's clear even her supposedly morally upright character doesn’t always get what she wants — or enjoy what she has. — B.V.H.

  • White Material

    2009

    IFC Films/Photofest

    Claire Denis returned to her African roots in this moody and violent portrayal of postcolonial turmoil, casting Huppert as a coffee plantation owner who refuses to let go of the land as war closes in around her. Literally dragging her star through the mud (among other, more sinister, things), Denis pushed Huppert to give one of the most fiercely physical performances of her career in this portrait of a woman caught between family life and ethnic strife, blind to the realities of a world where she no longer belongs. — J.M.

  • In Another Country

    2012

    Courtesy of Finecut

    Huppert has worked with the world’s greats but is also a fearless champion of young directors and arthouse names from different shores, like the Philippines’ Brillante Mendoza and South-Korea’s Hong Sang-soo. In her first collaboration with Hong, she plays three fictional Frenchwomen in three stories, who all visit the same Korean seaside town. Made with a tiny crew and in English, this whimsical, romantic and soju-soaked film is unlike anything else Huppert has ever done. — B.V.H.

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