I recently spent a week in Paris interviewing a bunch of actors and filmmakers involved in the major French films being released over the next six months or so, including many that will be screening during February's Alliance Française French Film Festival. It was pretty great to be honest.
One of the biggest thrills was getting the chance to speak to legendary French actress Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, Amour) about her new film Folies Bergère, which is released in New Zealand cinemas this week.
• Read more: Movie review: Folies Bergere
A subtle antidote to all the big holiday blockbusters, Folies Bergère introduces us to prize-winning cattle breeders Brigitte (Huppert) and Xavier Lecanu (Jean-Pierre Darroussin). Far from stereotypical farmers, the Lecanus are an urbane, contemporary couple.
Their kids have left the nest and Xavier has settled into the (relatively) quiet life, but Brigitte is restless. Following a flirty interaction with a young man attending a neighbour's party, she impulsively heads to Paris to stalk him. There she encounters another man (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo's Michael Nyqvist), who attempts to sweep her off her feet.
"She's a very kind person on the surface," Huppert says of Brigitte. "And yet she has multiple angles to her. She's not one-dimensional. She has a great sense of humour and irony, and it makes her very rich and deep."
Huppert is known for playing quite a lot of serious roles, and she relished the chance to portray someone a little lighter.
"She's closer to me than many other roles I've played. That's not because I am kind or sweet, although I am, but when you play darker roles, it's more of an inner projection of yourself. In this film, I used more of my own immediate persona. And I'm not often given the opportunity to do so."
It was her close relationship with writer/director Marc Fitoussi, with whom she collaborated on the 2010 film Copacabana, that lead to the opportunity to play such a character.
"We already had in mind to work together again," she says. "I profoundly like Marc's style and distance.There is, in his writing, something very graceful, with this humour that is his own. He is interested in detailing characters from the inside. Marc never abandons a character and his look, full of funniness, tenderness and humanity,manages to make them likeable. In this sense, his cinema, thanks to his intelligence and precision, reminds me of the golden age of Hollywood comedy.
Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Pierre Darroussin in a scene from the movie Folies Bergère.
Folies Bergère delights in subverting stereotypical portrayals of rural life, which perhaps lends the film particular relevance in New Zealand:
"Marc chose to show the rural world in a certain way, maybe not in a clichéd way," says Huppert. "He wanted to show modern contemporary people who read, who go out. Which is a totally true aspect of the rural world. There was a couple assisting us and given us advice and it was quite interesting to speak with them. They were almost more urban than rural in the way they were."
Huppert affects a very specific chemistry with Dourroussin as her husband.
"Strangely enough, we never performed together before. And I was really happy to be with him on the film. I think he's really sensitive. He really brings all the melancholy to the film. Because he is really the one who learns from the story."
"I find the film very subtle, because there is no blame or dispute in this couple, just a form of weariness and everyday life that, one day, needs to be shaken."
Folies Bergère is in cinemas now.
* Isabelle Huppert fan? Gonna see Folies Bergère? Comment below!