Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Story of Women - Isabelle Huppert

Author: dbdumonteil From IMDB-Story of Women

"This is a true story and the heroine is not unlike Louis Malle's hero "Lacombe Lucien". They are too coarse, too immature to realize what they are doing.. (In the Story Of Women) Chabrol's heroine only wants to "help" her neighbors before she realizes she can earn a lot of dough with abortion.Chabrol watches his character as an entomologist, as she makes her way through those troubled times:the world has gone mad,and anyway is abortion worse than what the authorities are doing with the Jews ?Maréchal Petain's France was so humiliated that it tried to make up with it by focusing on "morality"."

Isabelle Huppert: "I don't try to sympathise with my characters, I just try to empathise with them. To try to understand. If I sympathised with the characters I would make idealised, romantic characters out of them, which I don't do. I don't idealise them, I just do normal characters, not very sympathetic, but just the way they are. I think I do this in films that are made in the shape of a question, not in the shape of an answer. They just try to make a very open statement and it is down to anyone's subjectivity to find his own answer to that."

Ed here: For twenty years I've found Isabelle Huppert the most fascinating actress currently working anywhere (that I've been able to see anyway). Her simple ability to change her look and style profoundly from picture to picture (without any Merle Streep theatrics) is stunning. As is her ability to play profoundly appalling women and force us to deal with them whether we want to or not.

The time is 1943. Vichy France. Marie Latour (Huppert) is stuck in a provincial town and bored. Her two small children are a burden. If she wants to go dancing (as she often does) she puts the five year old in charge and leaves them. After helping her friend with an abortion she sees the opportunity to make money so she becomes an abortionist and is able to move to a larger apartment, extra rooms of which she rents to prostitutes. Her husband returns from the war shattered but she has no compassion for him. She prefers the company of a young pretty boy whom she's too ignorant to understand ("why is it you don't have to go to war?") is a Nazi collaborator spying on everybody in the street. She dances and she's as gorgeous and sexual a woman as I've ever seen. She's sings beautifully, too. And when she laughs and seduces her pretty boy she is a true mythic siren. She is so sick of her husband being around that she gets him the job he's been unable to find for himself. He's a dock security officer--a spy for the Nazis. He's aghast. But she bullies him into it.

Then director Chabrol proceeds to gut the Vichy government and show how vicious and hypocritical it really was. From the top down there is a drive for "prudence" and "decency" in everyday French life--"the old values." Which is ridiculous of course--they are aiding and abetting the Nazis in shipping Jews to the camps. But in their demand to "return France to its former ways" they decide to take an "immoral" person and make an "example" of him or her. All this is based on fact.

Huppert and Chabrol received Golden Globe nominations for the film. Independent Film Channel runs this fairly often; if not try NextFlix. Neither Chabrol nor Huppert give the audience a break from fade in to fade out. I can't remember a film of more complex morality than this one. As the review I quote at the top says: "As she makes her way through those troubled times:the world has gone mad, and anyway is abortion worse than what the authorities are doing with the Jews ?"


pattinase (abbott) said...

One of my favorite Huppert/Chabrol works. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112769/

Frank Loose said...

Have you seen The Piano Teacher? She is great in it. The movie is disturbing and thought provoking. Not sure i would want to watch it again, but Huppert's strong performance is worth seeing once.