Tag Archives: Isabelle Huppert

Do You Remember Me?

Frankie

by Hope Madden

A loosely structured day-in-the-life, writer/director Ira Sachs’s Frankie drops in on a family vacation in lovely Sintra, Portugal.

It’s a posh event, no doubt, but the idyllic setting contrasts with the emotions roiling beneath the surface of the film. That is best depicted by cinematographer Rui Pocas, who captures the distance, the awkward directionlessness, and the isolation.

Pocas’s camera catches the meandering spirit of the film as it winds its way through the streets of this historic, mist-enshrouded city, catching up here and there with the different members of the party. Each arrives at the behest of family matriarch, Frankie (Isabelle Huppert), and her doting second husband, Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson).

Intersecting stories involve Frankie’s ex-husband Michel (Pascal Greggory) and their grown son Paul (Jeremie Renier); her step-daughter Sylvia (Vivette Robinson) and her family; and a close friend (Marisa Tomei) who’s surprised everyone by bringing along a boyfriend (Greg Kinnear).

The tiny yet formidable Huppert perfectly embodies her character, frail but decidedly in control. In fact, the size difference between the great Huppert and the also great Gleeson is in gorgeously inverted proportion to their stubborn resolve.

Gleeson is all gentle, heartbroken support while Huppert’s performance is removed stoicism, which makes her fleeting moments of vulnerability all the more human. Seeing these remarkable veteran talents and their love story is more than reason enough to experience this film.

Sachs’s greying narrative, while never pushy, feels determined to expose our personal desires to check off boxes and maintain the illusion of control. Frankie manipulates events to find solace in the idea that there are final solutions, or that a person may continue to be needed and useful, even present for our loved ones after we’re gone.

But life is untidy, and fittingly, so is Frankie.

A Friend in Need

Greta

by Hope Madden

Greta is a mess, and I don’t just mean the character.

In fact, I’m not sure the character is a mess at all, no matter how she hopes to fool you. Played by the inimitable Isabelle Huppert, the titular friend in need is, in fact, a crackpot. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and poor, wholesome Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) doesn’t seem up to the reckoning.

A Midwestern transplant still grieving the loss of her mother, Frances lives in an irredeemably perfect New York apartment with her debutante bestie (Maika Monroe), but she feels a little untethered in the big city without her mom to call.

Enter Greta, the lonely older woman whose handbag Frances finds on the subway train and returns.

Director Neil Jordan hasn’t shot a feature since his underappreciated 2012 vampire fantasy, Byzantium. Here he shares writing duties with Ray Wright, who’s made a career of outright reboots and overt reworkings.

Like maybe Fatal Attraction with mommy issues.

There are elements to appreciate about Greta. Huppert is superb, her performance becoming more unhinged and eventually comical in that Nic Cage sort of way. Her time onscreen is creepy fun.

Moretz’s fresh-faced grief convinces for a while, and Monroe excels in an absolutely thankless role.

So what’s the problem? Well, number one, are we really afraid of this tiny, frail old lady?

No. We are not. Jesus, push her down already. I get it, you’re polite, but come on. I’m Midwestern and I’d have knocked her under a NYC taxi by now.

The terror is so unreasonable and yet so earnestly conveyed that scenes meant to be tense are comedic, and once you start laughing it’s hard to stop.

In fact, the sound of your own guffaws might distract you from the film’s truly breathtaking leaps of logic. It often feels as if whole reels were chunked out of this film and replaced with unconnected scenes from a private detective TV drama—one in which Stephen Rea’s dialog is inexplicably and unconvincingly dubbed.

What on earth?!

Well, par for the course with this film. It opens strong, develops well and relies on Huppert’s supernatural presence to create palpable tension before going entirely off the rails.





Ironic Title

Happy End

by Hope Madden

Happy End is as perceptive as it is dispassionate—and this, as every choice filmmaker Michael Haneke makes—is intentional.

Channeling themes from across his career, pulling most noticeably from both his 1992 horror Benny’s Video and his 2012 masterpiece Amour, Haneke slowly, deliberately unveils a tale of distance.

His subjects are the well-off Laurent family: a doddering patriarch (Amour’s brilliant Jean-Louis Trintignant), the daughter who runs the company (Isabelle Huppert), her surgeon brother (Mathieu Kassovitz), her disappointing son (Franz Rogowski), and the surgeon’s 13-year-old daughter, Eve (Fantine Harduin).

Eve has come to live with the family because of her mother’s suicide.

In the film’s opening moments, we watch as an emotionally unattached and unnamed character documents a mother’s every banal moment with critical commentary before poisoning a pet hamster.

It’s a maneuver that announces Haneke’s point: whether by way of technology, psychosis or money, the Laurents lack any depth of emotion, intimacy or personal connection. Or is it humanity they lack?

The filmmaker braids together the stories and points of view of several main participants, keeping his focus at arm’s length until we’ve become apprehensive about every move. Why is Georges (Trintignant) wandering the median in a wheelchair and talking to strangers? What struggles could cause Pierre (Rogowski) to behave—and dance—like that?

Why would anyone leave a baby alone with Eve?

Patient viewers will recognize Haneke’s deliberate and chilly storytelling, but Happy End really requires your patience. Still, don’t let your eye wander because too many frames contain a startling image, and this filmmaker won’t insist that you notice.

Eventually the distance becomes somewhat problematic because it feels as if Haneke is pulling punches he was happy to land in previous films.

As is always the case, though, you’re repaid for your efforts. Whether it’s the understated brilliance of the performances (Trintignant and Harduin are particularly memorable), the chilling clash of human emotion with whatever has taken its place within the Laurent family, or the diabolical final image, Happy End leaves you stunned.





Let Some Light In

Things to Come

by Cat McAlpine

Depression is often depicted as something grey and dark – a hovering cloud or a dark pit. Writer/Director Mia Hansen Love takes depression and divorce and instead floods them with light in her hopeful but slow Things to Come.

Things follows Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) as she navigates political upheaval, the end of her relationship, and the death of her mother. Instead of shooting a multitude of midlife-crises in dark corners and dim bars, Nathalie is found sleeping in sunny parks and running away to the country.

Even her mother Yvette (Edith Scob), wrought with panic attacks and depression, is bathed in light. Her apartment is bright and clean and she lays in bed all day in nothing but a silver silk night gown. Hansen Love’s film is determined to stay bright.

Huppert is steady and contemplative during the undoing of Nathalie, but her poise is just thinly veiled denial. When her husband Heinz (André Marcon) quietly announces that he’s leaving her for another woman, Huppert stares daggers out the window. “I thought you’d love me forever,” she quietly surrenders. And then, after a beat, “What an idiot.”

The tottering act of being okay and not-okay at the same time is mesmerizing from Huppert, who masters Nathalie’s self-assuredness. Nathalie needs just one puff of someone else’s cigarette to be okay. Nathalie needs just one invigorating philosophical conversation. Nathalie needs just four brief sobs alone in her room.

Riding out into the country side, she declares, “My mother is dead. My husband has left me. I’ve never been so free in my life!” All while toting along her mother’s black cat Pandora.

Nathalie hates Pandora, and is also allergic to her. But she refuses to recognize her literal baggage because sometimes faking it ’til you make it is the only option.

Things to Come can be heavy handed and slow. It intermixes quotes from philosophers and lengthy discussions on morality in a way that makes scenes feel listless. Rather than a complete narrative, the film unfolds like a series of emotional landscapes, loosely connected.

The first and last five minutes offer bizarre time jumps that don’t quite provide useful background or satisfying resolution. They are just moments on a timeline we’ve been invited to watch. But Huppert is ceaselessly watchable, and Hansen Love refuses to let dark times be … well, dark.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





Her

Elle

by Hope Madden

Elle is a flummoxing, aggravating, possibly masterful piece of filmmaking that will leave you reeling.

A misanthropic tale with a complex – even befuddling – moral core, the film explores the aftermath of a brutal rape.

It opens – before we even see an image – on the sounds of the assault. Michele Leblanc (a beyond-magnificent Isabelle Huppert), a prosperous video game developer, is being attacked by a masked figure who’s broken in.

No matter what you expect to happen next, the only thing you can predict is that clichés will be upended.

The storyline offers an almost endless look at complicated gender politics, systemic misogyny and rape culture. As Michele goads the mostly-male team working on the firm’s latest beta game that the tentacle penetration of a medieval maiden is not orgasmic enough, the film further complicates – well – everything.

Another element tangling the viewing experience is the fact that the creative team behind the film is entirely male: director Paul Verhoeven, novelist Philippe Djian, and screenwriter David Burke – who, interestingly, specializes in true-life horror films, often succeeding in humanizing the serial killer (Dahmer, Gacy).

To articulate the film’s frustrating turns would be to give away far more than is appropriate. Suffice it to say, the deeply flawed heroine makes baffling choices in a story chastising a culture that promotes rape while simultaneously encouraging rape fantasy.

Or does it?

Verhoeven’s resume may taint this perception. A provocateur always, his latest effort is his most dialed down and intelligent. And yet, this same director managed to turn a Holocaust interrogation into a scene from Flashdance in his 2016 film Black Book.

There is basically nothing he cannot reframe to objectify women – and yet, there is not one sexual act in this film that is played for titillation.

It is quite possible that Huppert is the entire reason Elle works – and God help me, it does.

Huppert understands this character’s damaging backstory – information allowed the audience in slow bursts – and captures the icy resilience it instilled. Her Michele is a restrained narcissist, a pragmatic survivor at odds with expectations – unlikeable but hard to root against. Above all things, she is unpredictable, but in Huppert’s hands, every decision – no matter how bizarre or offensive – feels utterly natural.

I cannot imagine this film surviving without Huppert in the lead role, but with her as the central conundrum in Verhoeven’s indecipherable set of intentions, Elle leaves a mark.

Verdict-3-5-Stars