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Isabelle Huppert conquers Manhattan

Isabelle Huppert, one of international cinema’s greatest and most enigmatic actresses, is single handedly conquering Manhattan this month, as the screen icon makes her American stage debut and is feted by the Museum of Modern Art with a staggeringly impressive survey of her best cinematic accomplishments.

Ms. Huppert, who turns 50 this year, yet maintains an ageless beauty and mystery to her screen persona, can be seen both in the flesh and on the screen at different venues in New York. At the Brooklyn Academy of Music, whose Next Wave Festival is a New York staple of experimentation and daring in the performing arts, Ms. Huppert is making her US theater debut as the lead character in the English play 4:48. The play, written by UK playwright Sarah Kane, is a brutal exploration of a woman’s mental unraveling and her drift towards suicide (which parallels the actual mental condition of the playwright, who killed herself shortly after finishing the play at the tender age of 26).

The play is being presented in French, and, in a move that has created its own controversy, without the use of translating titles (super-titles, as one sees at the opera). The director and star have explained this unusual move as a way of not distracting audiences from the dramatic tension on the stage, but it remains to be seen if there are enough fluent French speakers in New York to fully register the play’s impact. However, Ms. Huppert has received unanimous praise for her skillful portrayal of a chilly, internal woman’s emotional breakdown.

For those who will be unable to catch Ms. Huppert during her brief theatrical run (which is sold out) or who do not speak enough French to justify the price of the theater ticket, a more enjoyable (and economical) alternative is the 26-film retrospective of her amazingly diverse career, including her celebrated collaborations with such celebrated directors as Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Maurice Pialat, Michael Haneke, Raul Ruiz, Bernard Tavernier, Marta Meszaros and Andrzej Wajda, not to mention American directors Otto Preminger, Michael Cimino and Hal Hartley.

The retrospective opened this past week with the American premiere of GABRIELLE, directed by Patrice Chéreau (LA REINE MARGOT), a two-character drama set ten years into a loveless marriage.

Other highlights from the series include THE LACEMAKER (1977), in which Ms. Huppert’s performance as a young woman who suffers for love made her an international star; LOULOU (1980), Maurice Pialat’s powerful pairing of Huppert, who plays a young bourgeoise, who drifts into a carnal relationship with a rough drifter played to perfection by Gerard Depardieu; ENTRE NOUS, director Diane Kury’s nostalgic look at the relationship between two repressed women, co-starring Huppert and Miou-Miou;
LA CEREMONIE (1997), the first film where Huppert switched from victim to victimizer is a modern classic by suspense director Claude Chabrol and THE PIANO TEACHER (2001), Huppert’s celebrated sado-masochistic turn as a middle-aged piano teacher who becomes involved with her male student, which won her the Best Actress Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Huppert’s English-language films, also highlighted in the program, include ROSEBUD (1975), director Otto Preminger’s oddly prescient film about terrorism in the Middle East, casting Huppert as one of five women captured by terrorists; HEAVEN’S GATE (1980), the celebrated “fiasco” (since revived in its reputation) by director Michael Cimino which cast Huppert as a frontier madam who becomes involved with frontiersman Kris Kristofferson in the Wild West of the 19th Century; CACTUS (1986), Australian director Paul Cox’s unusual love story about a mysterious love story between a blind man and a French émigré who has fled an unhappy marriage and lost sight in one eye; and AMATEUR (1994), American indie director Hal Hartley’s surrealistic and deadpan comedy which stars Huppert as a highly sexual and violent ex-nun.

In addition to the film offerings until the end of November, Museum of Modern Art off-shoot P.S.1 is presenting a photo exhibition that attempts the capture the mood and mystery of one of France’s most enigmatic, prolific and most respected actresses.

Sandy Mandelberger
Industry Editor

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