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伊莎贝尔·于贝尔访谈(by 让-米歇尔·傅东)

This interview is an excerpt of a long conversation in public between Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Michel Frodon, which took place at the cinema Café des images at Hérouville Saint-Clair, March 2, 2005. It was part of a series entitled “Seeing together (“Voir ensemble”) devoted to the métier of acting and organized by the association L’Exception, the Comédie of Caen, and the Café des images. Some of the questions are those of Jean-Michel Frodon, while others come from the public.

What information on a film and on your role do you need before beginning a shoot?

A script, even it differs from filmmaker to filmmaker, never tells the whole story; there are always elements that need to be invented. As soon as one decides to take a role after having read the script, the various elements begin to fall into place. A character begins to take shape. And regardless of whether the information given is ample or not, it appears to one, strangely, as an apparition. From that moment, one knows whether or not this figure will be able to pass through one; if there is a meeting point.

Chabrol has said that with the actors there are invariably power struggles, while with actresses the rapport is more one of seduction.

I think being actor is more difficult for men. The very best actors are not afraid of playing with their own femininity and leaving aside power struggles with the director. Because there’s no getting around it: on a film set, it’s the director who has the power. This fact is often more difficult to accept for an actor than for an actress.

In an interview, Chabrol commented: “Actors are often technically very astute; thus with Isabelle Huppert all I need to do is to say where I am going to put the camera for her to guess how the scene is going to be shot and what will be her place in the frame. With her, I never have to explain anything.

This kind of symbiosis occurs when there is a real trust with the director. I would go so far as to call it a kind of belief. An actor, perhaps, will have more difficulty to let himself go with such a pact, which is almost spiritual in nature. You might say it’s the same kind of pact between the spectator and the film. Such strong words (“belief,” “pact”) are not meant to frighten. There is a scene in la Dentellière that illustrates this relationship. A young man pushes me along on the edge of a cliff while I’m blindfolded. It’s only once that he removes my blindfold that I know where I am. That’s how an actor advances with a director, in just such a state of blindness. An actor must have total confidence in the director, or not take the role.

In the cinema, the frame can at any moment fragment the body, just the opposite of the theatre. Are you conscious of this fragmentation when you act?

No, one isn’t aware of it consciously. Body language in the cinema is thus very particular. The screen can transmit an image very different of the body. In life, we see each other by facing each other. In the cinema, one is astonished to discover oneself from another angle. But at the same time there is no obligation to look. Serge Daney used to say that the work of actors is the make movies, and the work of the spectator is to look at them.

When there is a difficult scene to shoot, do you sometimes give advice between takes to the director as how best to shoot you?
No, if I have some suggestions to make, I give them while acting. There is not much to say between takes. You simply have to do them and sometimes re-do them. Of course, the strategy vis à vis the number of takes required varies enormously between filmmakers, from Chabrol who is often content with two or three takes to Haneke who made me do as many as forty-five. Jacques Doillon also does a lot, which provokes a certain fatigue and then it starts all over again. When the cinema is looking to seize an unfathomable nuance, you find something else. Maurice Pialat used to say that the best films are never seen, because they’re composed of what the camera never records, before “action” and after “cut.” He wanted to abolish the ritual surrounding each scene: clapperboard, action, etc. I rarely felt such a sentiment again. For instance, on Loulou, Gérard Depardieu and I both felt the moment when the scene should begin. Once the camera switched on without our being told. One morning, we were discussing in a café when the camera began shooting. It was extraordinary to switch over so abruptly into the scene with no forewarning.

What role does screening the rushes have for you? Do you intervene in the choice of more than one take of a scene?
Rushes are history! Ever since practically everyone started edited on video, there are no more rushes, and consequently this daily ceremony no longer exists, with its variable side effects. On the other hand, actors/actresses are always uneasy about the choice of takes in the editing; we find ourselves good in one take and ridiculous in another. We bargain with the continuity person so that she will retain the take that we prefer. Renoir used to say that if a film were to be re-edited with other takes, it would still be the same film. That’s rather a worrisome, don’t you think! (laughter). And Chabrol isn’t very far from thinking the same thing. Occasionally, I’ve asked him to redo a take: “Oh, my chérie, if you insist!” For him re-shooting such and such a scene doesn’t seem to change much.

Do you find it important to shoot scenes in their chronological order of the story?
Oddly, on a shoot, one always knows where one is. A two-hour film demands an enormous amount of shots, and in each shot it is not a question of rehearsing the entire film. In fact, the down times that are acted out of order are easier. The role is already in one’s head. It’s not a question constantly performing the whole role, but it nevertheless remains present overall, like a thread unwinding from a ball inside oneself. I feel intimately inside myself where the role belongs. It all happens easily, like having a baby! If I do not localize the role within myself, it’s impossible for me to find it in the course of the shoot.

How do differentiate between acting in the theatre and acting in front of a camera?

In fact, I like to think that there is no great difference. In my work as an actress, I don’t even pose such a question. For the last few decades, the theatre spectator is identical with the cinema spectator. In the theatre, it is the spectator who, mentally, composes a close up, an establishing shot, and a close shot. Nevertheless, there are obvious differences. One of them concerns the voice: in the theatre, you have to speak louder. The spectator would be able to hear us speak more softly, if they listened closely, but the old convention in the theatre demanding that actors speak loudly, declaim, remains strong. Another important difference: in the cinema, one is able to assume new roles, more unsolicited, without thinking about the spectator. It’s easy enough to make believe that they have been invented. While in the theatre with Medea or Hedda Gabler, one enters into mythical realms, already performed many times over. It is in response to this phenomenon that I told myself that I had to be indifferent to all that. Medea is me. Hedda Gabler is me. No one knew her. We don’t know what she looked like. There’s no claim to say: “It’s me.” One can recognize oneself in an individual but not in a character; I play individuals, not characters. A character is an obstacle, an arbitrary contour. Afterwards, you need a director who understands, who doesn’t impose a pre-established vision, who remains open to my own interpretation.

You said: “It is because I have the capacity to watch the one watching me that I am able to create a space of resistance in which I am able to absent myself and exist as an actress.”Did this working method establish itself unconsciously or is it the result of years of work?

I think I said this in a somewhat overly convoluted manner, but it’s true that I have a natural tendency to establish a distance, both with the person who is looking at me and with the role I am playing. This space creates a blank, a space wherein, perhaps, the spectator’s imaginary can be swept up. Creating such a space is useful for my work and it protects me: the person I am playing is me but not completely; fortunately, otherwise I’d end up in a psychiatric ward! It all remains a game, even if it is possible to push very far the appearance of truth. The disturbing confusion that can take place between a role and an actor, in the cinema as in the theatre, lends a certain force to the game and its appeal for the spectator. But an actor must himself avoid such confusion if he doesn’t want to lose himself.

Has it happened that you refused a role that seemed too far away from you, even though you appreciate the director and the script?
Yes, for example, Haneke’s Funny Games. I wanted to work with him, but the script seemed to me a demonstration of the manipulative power of the director on his audience. He pushed the exercise so far that the characters exit the fiction and enter into an experimental process, which was extremely demanding to watch as well as to act. The terrible reproduction of a news item where a couple is tortured while a child is put to death. I didn’t accept the role. I had the impression that in this story without fiction, the actor would remain stuck in a sacrificial function similar to that of the person. I could have played this role, but I didn’t want to.
 Isabelle Huppert伊莎贝尔·于贝尔

法国女演员。16岁跃登大银幕,70年代逐渐走红,成为享誉欧洲的女明  星。1977年以《编织的女孩》打开国际知名度,翌年凭《维奥莱特·诺齐埃尔》获戛纳最佳女演员奖。赴美主演大制作《天国之门》,可惜影片在市场上挫败,也影响了她进军好莱坞的星运。但迅速重新崛起。2001年因《钢琴教师》再度荣获戛纳影后奖。戏路宽广,非常多产,从天真型、性感型,到喜剧型,无所不包。把表演视作“发泄内心的疯狂”。

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