Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Fantasy Girlfriend - Isabelle Huppert

The stunning French actress is the most enduring - and the most life-changing (I suspect she has set one of the major paradigms for the type of woman I am attracted to; yes, she is probably the chief root of my dangerous obsession with redheads!) - of all my many crushes. I have been in love with her for almost 30 years, since I first saw her heartbreaking performance in La Dentellière when I was just entering my teens (a late-night treat on BBC2 one weekend). Some years later, at university, I discovered her earlier film Les Valseuses - a typically perverse and eccentric Bertrand Blier comedy - in which, when barely 20, she was more than holding her own opposite Gerard Depardieu. That sealed the deal for me: not only head-turningly pretty (though in a tauntingly accessible-seeming, girl-next-door kind of way), but a stupendous talent as well. Such poise, such confidence, such wit, such ferocious intelligence. And that red hair. Oh, it's been very hard for any of the women I've actually met to even begin to match up to Ms Huppert.

She has been formidably prolific in her career, regularly turning out at least two or three films a year for over 35 years now. Her nearly 90 films include a fair few dogs (Heaven's Gate!), but also a very large number of really fantastic films and haunting performances. I can't think of anyone else who can match her for the sheer number of great roles she's appeared in; she is the outstanding film actress of our times. If you're not familiar with her work, here's a brief bio, and an appreciation by John Patterson of The Guardian (a "venturesome actress given to playing sluts, nutters, illiterate murderesses, abortionists, psychopathic matrons, brothel madams, petit-bourgeois housewives purring with resentment and unslaked sexual thirsts"!!). Then head down to your local DVD shop and buy everything of hers you can find - especially any of her collaborations with Claude Chabrol (La Cérémonie, Une Affaire de Femmes, etc.).

I fell for her first when she was little more than a gawky girl, who appeared to be not much older than me (I was a precocious youth... and the two or three-year delay in foreign films making it on to British TV nurtured for a while the enticing delusion that she was "within my reach" age-wise).
In fact, she has nearly a dozen years on me - but, my god, she has aged well: she is still looking magnificent in her mid-50s. If anything, age seems to have refined her beauty.
That beauty has inspired not just me, but very many of the greatest photographers of the last few decades. And at the Ullens gallery here in Beijing this month there is an exhibition of some 150 photographic portraits of her. I'm planning on heading up there this afternoon for an extended swoon. And this evening, I may watch La Dentellière again, for the first time in over 20 years. I will probably cry at the end. Again.


stuart said...

"Her nearly 90 films include a fair few dogs (Heaven's Gate!)"

An assessment unrelated to the river bathing scene, of course.

I haven't checked her bio, but I only really remember her for that film where she witnesses a murder from an apartment window in New York.

Froog said...

I believe that was called The Bedroom Window - and starred Steve Guttenberg. Not a promising sign!

The only decent English-language film she's done, I think, is Hal Hartley's Amateur (in which she plays a former nun who has taken to writing pornography). The French stuff, though, is mostly quite breathtaking.

As is that show at the UCCA - I must have spent an hour or more there, just in a daze.

JES said...

Your taste in fantasy girlfriends continues to impress. Huppert dazzles just in still photos, like the ones you've included here (gotta love the raised left eyebrow in #1); put her in motion and it's hard to attend to whatever else is going on around her.

I was delighted to see her in that I Heart Huckabees thing a few years ago, just for the unexpected pleasure.

Froog said...

Didn't think much of Huckabees, but it's always nice to see her in something, isn't it, JES?

Maybe you should treat yourself to the book of the portrait exhibition (originally staged a few years ago in New York, at MOMA, possibly) - Isabelle Huppert: Woman Of Many Faces. I very nearly did, but used the fact that I might be moving soon as an additional motive for restraint. That, and the fact that it costs nearly 50 bucks.

JES said...

Agree with you on the Huckabee movie, but I was pleased that it was a film which might introduce her to a wider audience, especially of men who might have asked themselves, "Who is THAT and how have I missed her till now?!?"

That exhibition catalogue would have been a bachelor-days purchase in a heartbeat. But The Missus generally frowns (I suppose understandably) on any sort of slavering worship of feminine form not her own.

By the way, she gave me a gift the other day which you might like: a book entitled 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. There's an index with a little checkbox next to each title -- Roger Ebert says he counted up to only 900-some, which no doubt annoyed him. (It would me.) I love thumbing through the thing (lots of images, and the write-ups are quite good too). On the downside, one doesn't really look forward, as one approaches 60, to seeing lists of anything one must do before he dies. Especially as birthday presents, from one who stands to gain by his passing.

CinqaSept said...

She is also my idol and I share her red hair, and the tendencies of masochism in her films.

Froog said...

Ooh, BDSM spam! Whatever next?