NUMÉRO : The plotline for Frankie follows a famous actress on her holidays, telling the story, through an accumulation of impressionist touches, of a woman who is dying from an incurable illness…
ISABELLE HUPPERT : Yes, that’s right. The film unfurls inexorably around a major event, but it isn’t revealed to the viewer in a dramatic way. A woman is going to die. And this softness is precisely what reveals the pain and its brutality. There are far more spectacular films out there than Frankie, but that takes nothing away from its scope. So yes, it’s an intimist film as they say, but Ira Sachs chose to shoot it against the magnificent backdrop of Sintra, in Portugal, resulting in a collusion between the very private, intimate aspect of what happens between the characters and their confrontation with their surroundings, which mirrors their interior torment. It was rather a nice idea to shoot in Portugal, a bit of a neutral territory which brought us all together, from both France and the U.S.
When you accept a role, what is it you look for? Travel and seeking other horizons seem to have guided your recent choices.
The principle motive is cinema. It so happens that the last two films of mine that came out involved travelling [prior to Frankie, Huppert played the title role in Neil Jordan’s Greta], but it’s merely a coincidence. I’d already met Ira Sachs a while back. I liked his films, in particular Love Is Strange and Brooklyn Village. In the end he wrote this story specially for me.
You are an actress and nothing but an actress, by which I mean you’ve never wanted to direct. But nonetheless your artistic involvement in your films goes well beyond what is usually expected of an actor.
Maybe it’s a role I like to take on, a space I occupy. In Frankie, in particular, it somehow feels double because my character is an actress. But if you look closely at the film, not that much is made of this fact. The panoply of mythology associated with actresses isn’t deployed – you don’t see me “being an actress.” It’s simply stated, and that’s enough to colour the image. In the movies, it doesn’t take much for disbelief to be suspended and for the imagination to take over. A couple of times I asked myself what difference it made if my character was an actress, but I understood it later: it means that people see the film through that particular prism.
Are your films self-portraits?
Antonioni said that every film is autobiographical, and it’s probably just as true for an actress as for a director, but unconsciously I think. There’s always a form of self-portrait in my roles, even if nobody would ever know anything about my life from looking at the films I make. It remains hidden behind a mask; somewhere there is a truth that is hiding. There’s something unconscious at work which makes its mark on the film, like a trace that is discovered later. Something gets left behind without our knowing it, if you believe that cinema has that particular power.
Frankie is one of those films that takes the time to let stigmata and feelings make their mark.
Pascal Greggory and I were talking about this recently. We often had the impression of doing nothing, a sort of degree zero of acting. And that’s where cinema comes in with all its power, the power to capture a being rather than to make one. What gets captured is not something we can really control, we’re not entirely responsible for that. And that’s where the strength of a film lies.