Interview With Isabelle Huppert
INTERVIEW WITH ISABELLE HUPPERT
Were you familiar with Ira Sachs's movies?
The first one I saw was LOVE IS STRANGE, which I really liked. Then I saw
BROOKLYN VILLAGE [LITTLE MEN].
Our meeting was sort of sparked by me, somehow or other, two years ago in New
York. A meeting preceded
by exchanges and letters. Then Ira wrote Frankie with me in mind.
Frankie knows she is seriously ill and decides to spend her final vacation
surrounded by her loved ones, but
it's hard to gauge to what extent the disease and death are "at work."
Frankie recounts the inability to express feelings that strikes when someone
is going to die. At some point, one
runs up against the impossibility of saying anything, of talking about it. The
disease maintains an unqualifiable
presence in the film, which makes it fairly unsettling.
Ira Sachs never caves to cliches about disease, either on Frankie's part or
that of her loved ones, who know
she is close to death. His film is always surprising and original, never
tearful. That's what makes it so moving, I
find, yet restrained, which is not one of my favorite words, but in this
instance it applies, in the manner of Ira
Sachs' approach to illness. His desire never to succumb to pathos was at the
core of his writing.
"This is not all about you," says her ex-husband to her at one point.
I always found that line a little mysterious. And very brutal, because at
that point in the movie, it's also a way
of telling Frankie, "Take into account other people's pain, also." The disease
and suffering affect not only
Frankie; they also impact on the people around her, calling them into question.
The film is also about that
dimension of disease and death that rarely comes to mind. Deep down, the hardest
thing for Frankie to
endure is other people crying. That is another reason for her to keep the pain
at a distance. She also wards off
the slightest attempt to find a way out for her, because she knows there is
none. Ultimately, her refusal to
consider potential remedies reveals the seriousness of her condition. Especially
when her ex-husband takes
her to the chapel whose water is reputed to have miraculous properties.
The film also deals with what Frankie will leave behind.
Frankie displays considerable pragmatism concerning her money. When she
offers her son the bracelet, it is so
he will not have to pay inheritance tax, but she also reveals that she has
chosen to use her fortune to create a
foundation for young actors. There is much brutality in her disinheritance of
her son, but that does not stop
her being concerned for him, and particularly his romantic future, which she
tries to take in hand before she
Through the choice of disinheriting her children, Frankie unwittingly
expresses perhaps that her life as an
actress has probably been more important than her life as a mother. It seems
clear that, most likely to make
up for her absence, the son took a completely different path than his mother. He
went to work in finance. He
wanted to exist differently.
We are not so much in the presence of characters expressing themselves as
steeped in the here-and-now of
Yes, there is never an explanation, never premeditation. Things are not
anticipated. Even when Frankie gives
the bracelet to her son, there is a sense, in the way she suddenly removes it
from her wrist, that it only just
occurred to her to do so.
We comprehend very early on that Frankie is the story of a woman who is sick,
and that we are at the end of
something, but none of that is really expressed or explained or played out. I
could see very clearly what Ira
was chasing, as far as I was concerned at least: the point zero of
performance-acting out the situation and
nothing more. If I went too strong on irony, which I have tended to do in recent
times, he would alert me to it.
Even that created too much fiction. He wanted as much simplicity as possible,
Ira stalked anything tongue-in-cheek and eradicated anything superfluous, which
can creep in when you're
creating a role. He wanted the characters to be stripped of comments on
themselves or the situation. Oddly, I
had the impression of just being there. I sometimes said to myself, "I hope
people will see me in the film!"
In fact, that approach reminded me of precisely what I felt on Godard's
films. Ira Sachs possesses a similar
clarity in his work, a certain simplicity. You feel like you're doing nothing
and everything comes out in the
veracity of the moment, the person, the situation. That must be what gives the
great tension to the scenes. I
had not felt that so powerfully since SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE) and PASSION.
Frankie tells her hair stylist friend, "Find it before you look for it." It's
a line that could sum up the director's
approach-thinking everything through beforehand to be sure of capturing the
unforeseen on camera.
Frankie does indeed feel like it is planned and prepared to an extreme degree,
yet there is always that glimpse
of liberty that cinema requires and welcomes. That was especially true, given
that most of the scenes are
exteriors, so we were very dependent on Sintra's rainy climate, which
occasionally forced us to rework a scene
at the last minute. The scene where I eat my pastries while my husband informs
me that my friend has
brought her boyfriend, for instance, was planned as a tracking shot, but it
started raining, so we had to
shoot it very quickly.
The film shows a woman bringing together her loved ones before she dies but
it consists mostly of private
scenes that are one-to-one.
Indeed, up until the final shot when the whole group is finally together on
the hillside as the sun sets over the
Ira is so good at picking out those tiny, intimate details that make up life,
relationships, family...but so far he
had done it in a domestic context. Here, all his favorite themes are there but
approached in a more elegiac
and universal way.
The sumptuous landscapes of Sintra accentuate the tragic fragility of this
human life approaching its end.
The screenplay was quite descriptive. It was clear that Ira knew Sintra well,
and that it was important for him
to shoot there. He was very keen to immerse us in the place, as if on an island
where everybody meets up,
coming from wherever they are-France, the USA...it is a very beautiful spot,
which is also highly charged and
tragic. You feel there the full mystery, menace and violence of the elements,
with the fog and the quite
singular climate. Ira does not show a picture-postcard version of it. He has not
reduced it to a tourist
destination. Instead, he films it as a character with an important role to play.
There is a dramatization in the
way he films the landscape, particularly the forest, cutting abruptly or even
brutally from one shot to the next.
The tourists occasionally surge into shot.
Yes, and it's good that he kept those moments, that he didn't expunge the
omnipresence of the tourists. I had
already been to Sintra myself, to shoot DEUX with Werner Schroeter.
Your costumes-colorful yet pared-down-reflect the director's approach.
The costumes, which are at once very simple and very beautiful, were dreamed
up with great precision and
attention to detail by Khadija Zeggai, with whom I spent a lot of time. It was
particularly important because I
only had two costumes. They had to make an immediate impression on the shot.
There are two dominant colors, mauve and orange. I was very attached to these
very pictorial and cinematic
colors, which are at once cold and strong. They are very present on screen, and
not easily forgotten. I also
liked her little neck-scarf, her figure-hugging denim jacket and the heels she
wears. It lends Frankie a certain
fragility when she walks in the forest.
It was easy to imagine Frankie arriving for a vacation in Sintra wearing
jeans and a t-shirt, but I wanted her role
as an actress to emerge through her clothes, and for the audience to feel she
likes the refinement of the
materials without being sophisticated. The process with the costumes was the
same for all the characters.
From the very start, they are defined and designed by their costumes.
When Frankie looks across the landscape and sees her husband and friend
walking together, she seems
removed from her life already, imagining existence going on without her.
Yes, she imagines the future without her. She perhaps imagines her husband
and her friend ending up
together. It's both a serene and a chilling moment. The expression on her face
(and mine!) is pretty
indefinable. She is not overcome by bliss or happiness. Plenty of feelings
intermingle. Sadness, serenity...the
character materializes whatever feelings the audience might have in that kind of
We subsequently realize that her ex-husband is watching Frankie watch life
proceed without her.
Yes, that dual gaze is a very beautiful idea, especially as her ex-husband
observes her through a lens. As a
result, it's Frankie the actress who appears through his gaze.
In the final scene, when Frankie comes back down the hillside, followed by
her loved ones, there is an
almost mythical dimension, a Pied Piper of Hamelin feeling.
A fairytale that also revolves around a disease. Yes, it is clearly Frankie,
who leaves first and leads everyone
back down, fairly swiftly, without them spending too long contemplating the
ocean. Like a fairytale, the whole
film converges on that evening reunion, and the climbing of that hillside. The
beauty of the sunset that day
was a kind of miracle. The sky was practically ablaze, with that extraordinary
reflection of the sea. The film
begins with the water of the swimming pool and ends in the water of the ocean.
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