The magic of Asian cinema has cast a spell on Isabelle Huppert, who is keen to expand her already vast silver screen portfolio from Europe to Asia.
“I would love to make more films in Asia. We have been praising Asian films in France for so many years,” says the French actress.
“For me there are no borders when it comes to filmmaking. You have different cultures, countries, habits and different ways of speaking. But beyond that there’s such a strong and familiar medium, which is the way we make movies. Once you have gone beyond these layers of differences, you go to the core of it.”
The two-time Cannes best actress winner is in town for a mini retrospective of her career at the Hong Kong International Film Festival and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-French relations.
She says she is glad that the Chinese film market – the second largest in the world – is open and offers a huge film audience other than the United States.
Cinema plays an important role in connecting people from different cultures, she says. And the Chinese name she wants to connect with the most is Wong Kar-wai, whom Huppert says is the most well-known and respected Hong Kong director in France.
“If Wong Kar-wai comes to me, the idea of working with him is enough for me to go [ahead] without any questions,” says Huppert, who is visiting the city for the third time.
Wong is known for not giving his actors a complete script, but that does not scare the 61-year-old, who in 2009 served as Cannes festival jury president, the same job that Wong did in 2006.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest living actresses, Huppert has appeared in more than 90 films and TV productions since the 1970s and has worked with acclaimed directors from Jean-Luc Godard to Michael Haneke. She has won the best actress at Venice Film Festival twice and was nominated for 14 times at the Cesar Awards – the most nominated at the French Oscars.
Huppert says her experience with Korean director Hong Sang-soo in In Another Country (2012) has ignited her desire to do more work in this part of the world.
“There was no script either,” Huppert says, recalling how Hong only handed her details of the scenes in the morning and she had to learn them quickly. “I’m attracted to it,” she says. “I’m a French actress not an American actress.”
Four of Huppert’s films are on show at the festival. She says the selection covers a large period of her work.
Huppert’s portrayal of Pomme, a young beautician whose relationship with a rich man turns sour because of their social and cultural gap in The Lacemaker (1977), won her a BAFTA as the most promising newcomer.
Story of Women (1988), based on the true story of the last woman guillotined in France, by Claude Chabrol and Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001), which brought Huppert her second best actress award at Cannes Film Festival, are also showing.
“I worked with Chabrol on seven films, and The Piano Teacher was an essential moment in my actress life.”
The festival also showcases her latest offering Abuse of Weakness (2013), in which Huppert plays a film director recovering from a stroke falling into the trap of a con man. Not only does she have to demonstrate the character’s tough recovery from the trauma physically, she also has to convince the audience that it is a true story based on the account of the film’s director Catherine Breillat.
“This film is exactly what happened to her,” Huppert says, recalling her experience in imitating the director’s sufferings from the stroke in the film. She says in the film “it was me, but it wasn’t me”.
“It was like her persona was almost abolished, and she [fell into the con man’s trap] in the state of unconsciousness.”
Huppert has said that she has no plans to retire. But it is not because she is still looking for roles that will challenge her at this stage of career.
“It’s about working with different people,” she says.