This week’s selection brings together films starring French actress Isabelle Huppert. Director Werner Schroeter, who worked with her several times, said she does not need “psychological posturing”, but that she sees acting first and foremost as work that requires an acute direction of energy. Huppert played in more than a hundred films, playing very different characters and worked with a variety of directors (such as Jean-Luc Godard, Mia Hansen-Løve, Michael Haneke, Paul Verhoeven, Maurice Pialat...). French film critic and filmmaker Serge Toubiana said about Huppert: “Her many appearances do not make her a familiar face; on the contrary, they deepen her mystery..."
Loulou (Maurice Pialat, 1980)
It is said Maurice Pialat liked to torment his actors and thus achieved remarkable results, but after filming Loulou (1980) Isabelle Huppert said, “I would make more films with him, eyes closed.” The film is drawn from the life of screenwriter Arlette Langmann, who based the story on her break-up with Pialat and her subsequent adventure with “Dédé”, ten years earlier. The hyper-realistic psychodrama tells a woman's manifold desires for sexual liberation. The bored, bourgeois Nelly (Huppert) escapes her jealous husband with the crude, semi-illiterate ex-prisoner Loulou (Gerard Depardieu). Depardieu and Huppert seem vigorously real and act in a spontaneous and capricious way that makes the film seem fresh and unsettling at the same time. Filming, apparently, did not run smoothly, due to a very absent Pialat and heavy atmosphere on the set. In turn, this made Depardieu say that the only thing that could persuade him to work with Pialat again would be money. After refusing to see the film and then finally seeing it a few years later, Depardieu admitted the revelation: “I understood everything”. Loulou is available on Prime.
Malina (Werner Schroeter, 1991)
Huppert plays an Austrian writer who’s on a path of self-destruction, whilst torn between her husband and lover. The movie is based on the fairly underrated 1971 book with the same title by Ingeborg Bachmann. Adapting a book about writers and writing to the screen is difficult, but Schroeter’s Malina rises to the occasion and is able to match the master strokes of both authors, the unnamed writer and main character (played by Huppert) and Bachmann herself. The text underwent a second literary refraction by Elfriede Jelinek, who adapted it for the film. As in the book, dreams, fiction, memories, and movies mix with the writer’s real life, and all add up to a visual and sonic rendering of the disintegration of the writer’s identity. There is a lot to say about the emblematic representation of postwar Austria, the matter of “identity” or the portrayal of a neurosis. But the most remarkable element is probably how it represents a diffusive female consciousness and the unstinting, abundant and extravagant train of thought of the protagonist.Malina is available on MUBI.
Da-reun na-ra-e-seo [In Another Country] (Hong Sang-Soo, 2012)
Apparently Hong Sang-soo does not write screenplays, or rather, not anymore. In his film In Another Country, a young screenwriter kills time by writing a three-part screenplay, set in a seaside town, that tells the story of three different women, all named Anne and all played by Isabelle Huppert. As one expects to see “again and again”, the stories offer “either, or” scenarios, whilst providing a sideway commentary on the potential of cinema. As Hong Sang-Soo’s cinematic oeuvre is usually based on variations on a repeating theme, the revelation in this film is Huppert. Whether she is a filmmaker, the lover of a filmmaker (Moon Sungkeun) or a newly divorced spiritual seeker, Huppert engages in interesting—and often unexpected—ways with the material. The director, in turn, exhibits his playful formal ingenuity by dramatising slight but significant differences and reveals how much he is able to do with so few elements. In Another Country is available for rent or to buy on iTunes.
“In Ivan I have lived, in Malina I will be dying.” This is the unusual story of the triangular relationship of a woman who lives with a man named Malina in Vienna. She is infatuated when she meets Ivan, who is going to be her last passionate love. Her feelings are so strong and all-encompassing that Ivan can neither understand nor return them. Love is all this film is about, showing the loneliness of the one who loves.
“On a psychoanalytic level Ivan is a projection of a desire for absolute erotic love, while Malina represents the rational male alter-ego that clashes with the female emotional ego and finally obliterates the female identity – suggesting that it is only possible to be a writer at the expense of femininity and desire. Huppert’s tour-de-force performance of exaltation and self-destructive despair is familiar from Schroeter’s repertoire, and so is the film’s nonlinear narrative with its operatic climaxes – albeit now psychologically motivated as nightmares and hallucinations.”
“Death Styles: That was Ingeborg Bachmann’s name for her three-volume novel series that she wrote in the 1960s. Malina was supposed to the be overture, a ‘story within the self.’ The novel was published in German in 1971 by Suhrkamp publishing house. It was to be the only novel published from a completed manuscript during the poet’s lifetime. All others remain fragments. [...] Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek wrote the script for a successful film adaptation of the work, directed by Werner Schroeter in 1991. For Jelinek, Bachmann was the first woman after WWII who used ‘radical poetic means’ to highlight ‘the ongoing effect of the war, torture, and extermination within society.’”
“Malina catches the profuse, prolific, prodigious, and prodigal imagination of its protagonist – the enormous energy of creation and clamor of thought that are inseparable from the writer’s moment-to-moment whirl of daily activity. It does so with a surprising and canny economy of means that’s all the more remarkable given the torrential genius that Bachmann displays in the novel, which is a masterwork of rare imaginative power. (The novel was republished by New Directions in 2019, in Philip Boehm’s revision of his own 1990 translation, with an introduction by Rachel Kushner.) Like the movie, the novel is the story of an unnamed female writer; unlike the movie, it’s narrated in the first person, and, as such, it’s one of the great portraits of a mind at work – of a woman’s mind, in urgent thought about the very implications of writing and living as a woman. It’s a novel in three parts, each devoted largely to a different man – to her literary lover, Malina, who works at a military museum; to Ivan, a younger, nonliterary man whom she seizes for sex and romantic banality; and to her father, an abusive and violent (and possibly incestuous) monster, memories and nightmares of whom haunt her.
The novel is wildly fragmented, yet it remains tautly bound by its thematic and tonal coherence and by its protagonist’s overwhelming mental energy, a relentlessly forward-driving rush of creativity that assimilates disparate elements and incidents. The novel features the protagonist’s intricate and torrential narration of her daily life and her distant past, her letters (which are a major part of her literary output), a long fable, a batch of tightly detailed dreams, an extended interview with a journalist, large and short chunks of her dialogues with Ivan and Malina, and shards of a music score by Schoenberg. Her voice veers between exalted observation, scathing poetic insight, and day-to-day ordinariness of restaurants and food, clothing and street life, all infused with the context of Austrian history and culture.”
“A psychosexually charged disquiet drenches the pastel-toned Vienna streets and bars, where sweat drips from every forehead and hunger sits in every stare that overstays its welcome. Again and again, the woman finds herself pressed against the locked door of her own house, barred access from where Malina lies. A spotlight always beams on her face, probing her like a bug as she wobbles through her own head, terrified of what she might find. In the introduction to their translation of Elfriede Jelinek’s screenplay (which Schroeter changed significantly), Brenda L. Bethman and Larson Powell write that feminist literary scholars declared both Jelinek and Schroeter to be murderers, Jelinek (also the name of the woman’s secretary in the film) being Schroeter’s accomplice. But though Malina’s credits refer to Huppert’s character as “the woman,” a name that allows both a literal reading and critique, an invisible title persists. The woman is a writer, and through her zeal for this name she wrestles – with lovers, with her father, with herself, and with words.”
- 1. Ulrike Sieglohr, “Divine Rapture: The Films of Werner Schroeter”, Film Comment, May 2012.
- 2. Richard Brody, “The literary Frenzy of Werner Schroeter’s “Malina”,” The New Yorker, November 2020.
- 3. Kelley Dong, “The Writing on the Wall: Werner Schroeter’s “Malina”,” MUBI, October 2020.
Nelly, a restless middle-class girl abandons her bourgeois friends and a steady relationship for the unemployed, leather-clad layabout, Loulou.
Which part of French cinema’s heritage do you feel you have the most in common with?
Pialat: Lumière. Pagnol. Renoir.
“Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu just happen to be the sexiest couple in the history of the cinema. All the time that Huppert and Depardieu are on the screen, they radiate the most dangerously anarchic sexuality one can imagine. They now belong to the ages. The first clue to the revolutionary originality of Loulou is that the name is the male's rather than the female's. Loulou is more her fantasy sex object than she his. This is a film about eroticism. I began to feel the force of Pialat's oddly stylized bedroom lyricism.”
“Pialat's first collaboration with actor Gérard Depardieu, in Loulou, represented the end of his search – after Jean Yanne and Phillippe Léotard – for the ultimate screen surrogate, one he would never contemplate replacing, so perfect was Depardieu’s cinematic persona as an incarnation of Pialat’s combination of softness and rage. Despite this, Depardieu would never play any version of Pialat himself. Loulou is based on a story that happened to Pialat (his girlfriend and close collaborator, screenwriter Arlette Langmann, had left him for a working class yob), but in the film Depardieu plays the ruffian, not the Pialat character.
Loulou – whose screenplay, such as it was, could not actually be completed, as Depardieu and Huppert had other projects to work on – is more fractious, fragmented, and narratively oblique than his previous titles: a film for which the audience must build up its own response to a mystifying but engrossing sexual relationship based on an accumulation of individual snapshots.
Another notable dinner table sequence, this time exterior (a single shot lasting nine minutes, taken with Jacques Loiseleux’s handheld camera), is a remarkable centerpiece that reminds us of Pialat’s taste and eye for the details of simple, provincial French life – the Pastis and oysters, the dog sitting up at the table, the coughing, the furtive looks. What could have seemed like social commentary becomes something more formally vital: a living testimony of the moment itself, with nothing chopped, cleaned, or edited in postproduction.”
France Culture's 1980 episode of ‘Le cinéma des cinéastes’ (25') where Claude-Jean Philippe received Isabelle Hupert to talk about Loulou and Sauve qui peut (la vie), released the same year. On LaCinetek, you can watch the 25' episode of ‘Ciné Regards’ of September 6, 1980 with Maurice Pialat on the set of Loulou. There's also a wealth of material on the website of the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA), such as a tv interview with Huppert and Depardieu, and a portrait of the latter during the shoot. [in French]
Interview with Isabelle Huppert on Maurice Pialat’s Loulou (1980)
- 1. “20 Questions for Filmmakers,” Cahiers du Cinéma, nr. 325, Juin 1981. Translated by Craig Keller.
- 2. Andrew Sarris, “Films in Focus: Flash! Sexiest Couple in Film,” The Village Voice, June 9, 1980. Sarris put Loulou on #2 in his Village Voice top10 of 1980, right after Godard's Sauve Qui Peut (la vie). Sarris’s zealous review in the Village Voice is still remembered by Huppert as her best American notice.
- 3. Julien Allen, “Maurice Pialat: Moments of Truth,” Reverse Shot, October 16, 2015.
Set in a seaside town, the film consists of three parts that tell the story of three different women, all named Anne and all played by French actress Isabelle Huppert. The framing story has young film student, Won-joo and her mother Park Sook hiding from their debtors in Mohang, a seaside town in Buan, North Jeolla. The bored younger woman sets out to write a screenplay whose plot will use the place they’re staying in for the location, but eventually comes up with three variants, using the same basic idea in all of them.
“The construction of In Another Country, with its triple role for Isabelle Huppert and its recurring characters, is as much based on the pure experience of the chemistry of feelings (consecutively bringing three women into an a priori identical environment and observing the different reactions) as on pictorial observation (changing the foreground figure to see how the background evolves). Far from any rigidity, this dispositif proves incredibly malicious, in the image of the character of the lifeguard, who is identical in the three stories but behaves much more unpredictably than the spectator’s expectations. We expected ‘again’, but we get ‘either, or’. That is precisely Hong Sang-soo’s sleight of hand: making us believe that he is constantly directing the same film in order to quietly ameliorate the construction of his scaffolding of fictional deployment, a drunken cousin of Smoking/No Smoking, which would rather be called Drinking/No Drinking in his case. Cheers, dear Hong Sang-soo! Cheers to you and to your cinema!”
“Unlike the twice-told tales of Hong’s early career, in which his films’ second halves reiterate their first, revisiting sites and incidents to revise their meaning, Hong’s recent works, including his latest, In Another Country, often repeat episodes more than twice – literally, déjà vu all over again – varying the version of events to cast doubt on their veracity or to offer cubist scrutiny of his complicated characters. In The Day He Arrives, a soju-fueled cross between Last Year at Marienbad and Groundhog Day, Yoo Seongjun, a lapsed director self-exiled to the provinces, roams the streets and bars of Seoul much as X wanders the hallways and gardens of Marienbad, through an endless repetition of settings, characters, and incidents, each reiteration calling previous accounts into question. “I don’t remember a thing,” the bar owner Ye-jeon insists after Seongjun apologizes for what something he has just done, her protestation recalling A’s many disavowals of the past in Marienbad. Whose version does one trust: his, hers, neither?”
“The actor is indeed, as much as the set and the filmmaker himself, an important purveyor of fragments, leading Hong Sang-soo to declare the following about In Another Country: ‘I saw the light, its beams on the floor. I did not yet know what I was going to do with them, but I knew these elements would be at the heart of the film. The same goes for the place where Isabelle Huppert sees the goats. Precision or rather a sense of detail is essential for me. It had to be that place and no other. When I choose the actors, the first time I see them, I identify a number of facts about them. Concerning the actors, it is this mixture of feeling and intuition, and the details gathered at the locations, which make it so that I have to shoot here and nowhere else. It’s a rather strange and indefinable alchemy that inspires me. What’s beautiful is that everything starts from chance. The chance to meet these places, these actors. I never know what drives me to love a place. This road with this arrow, it’s banal, you might not even notice it. Yet I remember that it immediately caught my eye. As if it was something waiting to be revealed by someone.’”
- 1. Joachim Lepastier, “Drinking / No Drinking,” Cahiers du Cinéma, 682 (2012). Republished on Sabzian on 6 May 2020.
- 2. James Quandt, “Déjà Vu,” from the booklet that accompanied Cinema Guild’s DVD of The Day He Arrives. Republished on Sabzian on 7 February 2018.
- 3. Romain Lefebvre, “The Hong Sang-soo Method,” translated by Gerard-Jan Claes and Anton Jäger, Sabzian, 6 May 2020. Originally published as “La méthode Hong Sang-soo. Ou comment tourner un film en quelques jours,” débordements, 6 March 2018.