Isabelle Huppert and John Waters at the Film Society. Photo courtesy of Julie Cunnah.
“Another feel bad French movie, my favorite genre,” joked Waters as he accompanied Huppert on stage following a screening of Catherine Breillat’s latest film, Abuse of Weakness. The Pope of Trash and the acclaimed French actress [whom he states is his favorite] joined in conversation at the Film Society of Lincoln Center to discuss her performance in the film, potential filmmakers she would work with, celebritism in France, and much more. The two poured out loving references to many movies as Waters questioned her about filmmakers from the past and present, from Alfred Hitchcock to Gaspar Noé, she has acted for or would like to. “So Michael Haneke… he’s a real laugh riot, right?” asked Waters. “Of course he is, just not in his films,” replied Huppert.
“I get along with whoever has a vision. I’m only an instrument,” Huppert said, regarding her experiences working with an incredible range of filmmakers throughout her career. “You have two different jobs in life. You have the job of an actor and you have the job of the spectator. These are two completely different jobs. What you feel as a viewer is not the same as what you feel as an actor. They’re different jobs, and you don’t want to confuse them. As an actress, I’m not the viewer. I do my job. Of course, as a viewer, I get hooked by a scene, I get moved, I get scared, all those things. As an actor, I don’t get any of those. I just ‘do’ things. It’s totally different.”
Abuse of Weakness finds Huppert in a fascinating role in regard to the relationship between actor and director. This semi-autobiographical film follows Huppert as Maud Schoenberg, a film director, as she recovers from a stroke and in the process becomes hypnotized by a well-known swindler in France. Hoping to have him star in her upcoming film, she voluntarily writes him check after check until she’s clean out. This premise comes from the personal experiences of Catherine Breillat, the film’s director, following her stroke in 2004.
John Waters and Isabelle Huppert at the Walter Reade Theater. Photo courtesy of Julie Cunnah.
Huppert discussed the process by which she and Breillat, (who’s more typically known for her sexually provocative female dramas such as Fat Girl, Anatomy of Hell, and Romance) separated the biographical aspects of the film and the fictional story she was starring in. Huppert even came across the con man himself, Christophe Rocancourt, outside of shooting the film by chance. In the film, Rocancourt is portrayed as the manipulative Vilko Piran by French rapper Kool Shen. “Who’s more handsome?” laughed Waters.
On paparazzi and celebrity culture, Huppert talks of the mask of normality that doesn't ensue with fans coming up to her when she goes out in France. “As actors we like to explore to this blurred border between normality and abnormality,” Huppert said. “Since you played so many characters that are extreme, do strangers confide in you, thinking you’ll understand? It happens to me all the time,” joked Waters in front of the packed auditorium.
After the conversation, Huppert stayed to introduce a screening of the Michael Haneke masterpiece The Piano Teacher, in which Huppert portrays a repressed piano instructor who embarks on a masochistic love affair with one of her pupils. For this role, Huppert took home Best Actress at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival.
Abuse of Weakness begins its one-week exclusive theatrical run on August 15 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.