Meeting of two maestri: Isabelle Huppert, Lee discuss cinema in Seoul
By Lee Hyo-won
It’s not often one gets to see two revered artists from opposite corners of the globe come together to speak about their visions and inspirations.
When news broke that French cinema icon Isabelle Huppert was coming to Korea for the first time in 13 years, Cannes-winning director Lee Chang-dong took the opportunity to organize a special event, Friday, in Seoul, that might only be possible during film festivals.
“Korea fortunately retains a culture that allows audiences to meet cineastes, compared to other countries. But the demand for a more diverse range of film genres is going down, so this is a very rare occasion,” Lee said during the talks at Cinecube Gwanghwamun.
Fans from near and far gathered for Huppert’s film that recently opened in Korean theaters, before the actress and director took the stage to discuss the work and their views on the art of filmmaking. Film critic Kim Hye-ri moderated the talk, and local cineastes such as actress Moon So-ri and Kim Dong-ho, honorary director of the Busan (formerly Pusan) International Film Festival were spotted among audience members.
In Marc Fitoussi’s “Copacabana,” Huppert stars as a free-spirited bohemian trying to mend an estranged relationship with her conservative daughter. Her real daughter, actress Lolita Chammah, plays the latter role.
She said she was drawn to Fitoussi’s oeuvre, which consists of works that are jovial but at the same time spotlight social outcasts.
“It’s a light and fun film but it’s a social comedy, and there are things that are more serious and melancholic beneath the comedy,” Huppert said about “Copacabana.”
Lee said he completely fell in love with Huppert’s character, Babou, even though she was very strange. “It’s a character that only Ms. Huppert can play... She’s cheerful but also tells us many profound things,” he said. “Ms. Huppert plays characters that are initially difficult to understand or even like, but she has a knack for making them believable and viewers are able to empathize with them.”
On interpreting a more agreeable character than her usual screen personas, such as a sexually repressed woman in “The Pianist,” Huppert said it was actually more challenging and even hopes to play a saint next time.
“Cinema allows you to be someone else, and I’ve always been drawn to unpleasant characters that are difficult to relate to. But these roles are actually easier because all you have to do is make an unexpected gesture or such. With nice characters, on the other hand, there’s a consistency about them and you must be convincing in portraying this aspect.
“This is why I am so fascinated by the heroine in ‘Secret Sunshine,’” she said about Lee’s 2007 film which won its lead actress Jeon Do-yeon the best actress award at Cannes. “(Jeon’s character) has to consistently look within herself to search for answers.” She said that the film was “a great shock to me because the heroine goes through all the levels of tragedy someone can ever experience with great realism, and it’s almost unbearable to watch as an audience member.”
Lee showered the actress with compliments, saying she “is not just a great actress but a monumental one.
“Actresses usually confront the audience with their femininity _ be it fragility, sexual charms or maternal instincts. But Huppert transcends her femininity and portrays the human condition itself. As a viewer you see not just a woman onscreen but a human being.”
Lee said Huppert has a way of provoking curiosity in viewers by refraining from directly expressing emotions, thereby creating tension onscreen. Both cineastes agreed that less can often be more.
Huppert expressed admiration for the minimalism in Lee’s other films such as “Poetry,” for which the director won the best screenplay award at last year’s edition of the Cannes Festival. “Lee Chang-dong has a way of showing things in such a minimal way by internalized things, making it much closer to real life.... Without even knowing it, viewers enter the world (within the screen) and feel things themselves... His films are very poetic, which is not an easy thing to do in cinema.” She added that she would like to star in a Korean film if the opportunity presents itself.
But the actress did not dismiss expressionism itself in cinema. “There are so many moments in life that need to be magnified, and the camera can be like a microscope and capture so many things, like a person’s expressions.”
Fans of Huppert can admire the many faces of the actress through an ongoing photo exhibition and film retrospective. The Museum of Photography in Bangi-dong, Seoul, is displaying portraits of Huppert by famed photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Richard Frank, Edouard Boubart and Richard Avedon. Also featured are images by Korean photographer Chun Kyung-woo. The exhibition continues through Aug. 13. For more information visit www.photomuseum.or.kr.
CineFrance, a regular showcase for French cinema organized by the Institute Francais de Coree and Jin Jin Pictures, is showing nine of Huppert’s past works beginning Tuesday through July 29. Screenings are held every Tuesday at Hypertheque Nada, Daehangno, and Cinecode Sonje, near Anguk Station. For more information call (02) 730-3200.