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O Magazine
2015-2017

FALSE FRIENDS

5. ISABELLE
HUPPERT
BY RUBÉN LARDÍN

A false friend means being betrayed by vocabulary. Writing open letters to unknown characters might be a reckless thing.

In this section, Rubén Lardín sends an unasked for weekly missive to the stormy electrodynamical sea.

Letters have always been written to declare your love or to ask for money, but I have never needed cash to feel like a millionaire. That’s me, Isabelle, take notice, a bullshitter, but you’ll have to excuse me because I’ve come with the full artillery.

I can’t really recall it, but I guess I met you on some winter afternoon at the door of the Verdi cinemas in Barcelona, back then when it was a place where we went to see high quality and –let’s say– humanist films. We learned, we were thirsty, we sensed that films were a source of knowledge and had started to become conscious of what I call, I don’t know why, narrative farewells. In shooting scenes, for instance, we counted the bullets shot by a revolver, and in the half a dozen a cylinder could project we kept authenticity at bay. We were ready not to miss a thing, magic started to dilute and suddenly we wanted films that were not so playful, but more “compromised” with our reality. We thought ourselves very smart because we were very stupid, we were already cheated a great deal, but if you were on the film we knew we were going to come out satisfied, you were a differential element. Since then, I’m head over heels for you. I haven’t confessed this before because you’re a multiple person and this somehow overwhelms me, as you contain my mother, my sister, all my lovers, all the women I think I have known and, above all, all of the women I will never know. Also because, although you’re twenty years my senior, I could be your father. This is so because it’s been proved that any man is always older than you.

There’s an age in which men, established and satisfied, are forever tamed. We become sentimental and reactionary and there’s no turning back. That hasn’t happened to you, this atrophy is exclusively a male thing, we have progressively become stiff while you were becoming a great dame, something for which it is necessary to have grown being rebellious, restless, with spirit and a bit disconsolate. Among your first roles there are some of my favourite films, elegies to life such as Les valseuses o Glissements progressifs du plaisir, titles that were filmed when I was just a boy. I really met you when you were already old because you have always been old, you have no age, Isabelle: you belong to all times! I swear I’ve never been bored watching a film with you in it and if I ever became distracted must have been to provoke your anatomy, to try and pass on a yawning from my seat, something that has never happened because your self-possession before the camera is supernatural.

Mark Twain wrote that ginger heads, unlike the rest of us, who come from monkeys, come from cats. You, in your mature age, while others opted for exposing themselves to disgrace by reciting vagina monologues, were reading Sade onstage, naked and being at the same time Justine and Juliette, with those distrustful eyes of yours, with that smile that was more frequent in other times of your filmography, a strenuous filmography, longer than your body, that as a whole was always petit, because petite you are amongst all women. Your work is copious because you’re a warrior, and being a warrior implies defending oneself constantly, it’s the only way of moving forward. You have it all, Isabelle, the only thing you haven’t done is an aerobics VHS tape.

You face acting in the opposite way than most of your colleagues, as you do, and there’s where you nail it: acting is about losing yourself. The most difficult thing about being an actress is not becoming another, but ceasing to be oneself. Ceasing to be anything. I’m sure when you hurt yourself while acting, because I understand that happens, when some of your most exposed roles hurt your side, you add red wine to the wound as did the son of God, and in that you must have a lot in common with Verhoeven, who despite his atheism has been obsessed half of his life with the figure of Jesus from Nazareth. It’s easy for me to imagine you both having a coffee, you adding a tad of brown sugar to yours and him pouring a ton of refined sugar on his… I’ve got to say that since I saw you in that film you did together it’s been difficult for me to watch any others, I can’t take it out of my head.

Elle is disorienting even for those who enjoy it, it’s a trap even for the unwary. Feminists have even catalogued it as a feminist film, and according to Verhoeven this is the funniest thing that has ever happened to him: “That’s the last thing I need!” He pissed himself laughing. The Dutch director laughs because he admires strong women, but doesn’t waste time with feminism, and I get that because I’m also embarrassed by that kind of chit chat and I to devote my time to shredding your film as if it were a cake, so clean it is, so crystal-clear, almost obscene, so funny and devoid of any kin of perversion. I can’t believe it’s down to you, the oldest generation, to make this sort of brave and outrageous films, so valuable. Funny that you old folks, if you’ll excuse me, offer films of such intellectual lush, while younger filmmakers opt for circumspect or bourgeois works, meant for old ladies with central heating. When there’s nothing to offer, it’s normal to abuse drama and gravity, look around you: reality is stealing fiction from us.

My option before this situation is to assume it, wait for better times and distract myself from a passive resistance position. Meanwhile I ask myself whether there must be a testimony of the first photography in which someone smiled. Our forefathers had to keep a severe rictus during long exposures, we know that, but deep down I think that if they didn’t smile it was because they didn’t want to, because they didn’t want to question their representation. Years later we all adopt that stupid grimace as soon as someone pulls out a camera, we smile to play dead for an instant. The proliferation and increase of images has become information, and somehow information is the opposite from experience. However, the feeling is that through your films we end up in a different place, certainly the world is another place after having seen your work, although it’s also true that watching films is all of a sudden like reading books, an old habit. Today, no one watches films because audience’s taste has been redesigned to like TV series again, since series are socially cohesive, tools to accompany those who are alone, or those who feel alone even when they’re with with someone, which is the most horrible of circumstances: watching series as a couple, days of wine and roses, domestic hell. Unlike films, series do not ask for anything, don’t require anything; don’t compel you to do anything. They need nothing from us apart from our dormant attention and have no capacity to change us because their task is to mould us not to change, to keep us as we are. Smile, Isabelle!

Coming out of the cinema the other day, after seeing you play, yet again, that woman filmed by Verhoeven and written before by Philippe Djian (“I’ve had worse times with men I freely chose,” he made your character say in the novel), I went down to the tube station believing that films are the best tools we have to fight reality. I don’t mean tediousness, careful, I mean reality in all its aspects. Thinking about your film isolated me from the commercial posters and annoying pre-recorded voice announcements with which the simulacra is kept underground as well, and then it came to mind that the character you played was in a way the annihilation of a character, its reverse, and from the rear of the train I started walking along it, looking at the floor and asking myself at what speed I was travelling by adding my motion, walking, with that of an already-in-motion floor. And travelling through the red line as if I was traversing the film following a straight line I crossed the space between the wagons trying not to lose my balance, I had to improvise some kind of hip movement between passengers that were there stunned looking at their mobiles, little dance steps that revitalised me, and as I approached the head of the train I had the certainty that I would find you there in the crowd, knowing that you would be the prow of my audience day, that you would emerge like the figurehead of that self-driven train, no driver.

You’re a tiger woman, Isabelle. You’re a fellow woman, but you have no peers. You’re a multitude, but that’s why you’re scarce. In your presence we’re all mere half-men. I look at your beauty captive by your age and see in your features a hint of the annoyed archduchess, I sense in your gesture that you live wondering and I know you lick yourself with the happy carelessness of a free animal. Your serenity rules over the eccentrics of the world and you have the capacity, should you ever need it, of drinking a jar full of thin sand. Either this or you’re about to burn. I’ve never been too sure of it, but I will never demand any explanations.