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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 dies.

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 their intimacy.

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, no inflections. 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 sea.

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 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 situation.

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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