The inimitable Isabelle Huppert has appeared in some of the best, most daring films of the last four decades. She's been nominated for 15 Cesar Awards, and is one of only four women to win Best Actress at Cannes twice, and one of only two women to win Best Actress twice at Venice. Her two newest films, Paul Verhoeven's "Elle" and Mia Hansen-Love's "Things to Come," have garnered the actress even more acclaim. We talk to Huppert, 63, about “Elle,” in which she plays a woman who’s been sexual assaulted by a masked stranger, but doesn’t react to it in the way you’d expect.
[There's an array of jelly beans spread across the table]
These jelly beans seem like a pretty good conversation starter, huh?
Yes, I had a few. But they're addictive, I know, I know.
Which is your favorite flavor?
Are there different flavors?
Yes, I think the different colors are different flavors. The blue is fruity.
Really? I never noticed. I like them all.
Cats play pretty vital roles in both "Things to Come" and "Elle," and you handle the cat like a real pro.
Yes, I am a cat person, I am. I like cats more than I do dogs. The cat is very important in these films — kind of a silent witness to a story in "Elle." It's very interesting how in "Things to Come" the cat is sort of like a burden. It was such a heavy cat, a fat cat, something you have to carry but want to get rid of. It has all these meanings about her life. In "Elle," the cat gives some meaning to whatever she does, what it witnesses. It's an interesting coincidence, since I didn't pick these films just to work with a cat.
You talk to the cat the way my girlfriend talks to her cat, like it's a person. Her cat sleeps on my face and claws me for attention when I sleep.
I know! Cat people get very personal relationships to their cats. My cat has such a strong relationship to my children, for example. It's amazing.
During the New York Film Festival press screening, you called "Elle" a "post-feminist" film, but when someone asked Paul Verhoeven if "Elle" is "feminist," and he said, tersely, "No."
As a joke, we said that. She's a woman of power and doesn't want to be a victim, doesn't want to be the caricature of the female avenger in movies. She's beyond feminism, and all definitions. So she's "post-feminist," a new prototype of woman in opposition to a world of very mediocre men — very weak men.
I can relate to mediocre men.
Noooo, I'm not saying that. But I don't know, in the film, you know, the lover, the ex-husband, the son, the father — all the male figures are mediocre. And she's a very solitary, lone woman. The men do not exist around her.
Another movie that got its U.S. release this year is "Valley of Love," which I like very much, but which didn't linger very long here.
Yes, I don't know what happened with that movie. It played at the French thing [Lincoln Center’s Rendezvous with French Cinema], but never got a real release here. Very strange.
That film, "Elle" and "Things to Come" have very mature, earnest depictions of the dissolution of marriage. Not like an American film, all histrionic, yelling, violence. I know you've said you don't pick roles because of connecting themes.
It's the kind of theoretical idea that comes after you're done. Actually, I'm not so sure that you're [claps hands] clear in your mind at the time. Like I said yesterday, it's more like something that goes beyond you, or goes through you without even being aware of it. Cinema speaks a lot about unconscious, so you're prone to things, driven by things, and you don't even know what it is. It's only when it's all over that you see it and say, "OK, that's what it was all about." But the material is there to push you into that direction without you having any awareness.
On Twitter ... wait, do you use Twitter?
No, I don't like social media. Should I use them?
No, probably not. But how do you stay connected with people without social media?
I don't even know what that means. I just see people to be connected to them. What does social media even mean? Like, Facebook and Twitter? No, I don't like them.