Even an actor like Isabelle Huppert can’t make “Hidden Love” the scalding psychodrama it was intended to be.

Even an actor with the Olympian powers of Isabelle Huppert can’t make “Hidden Love” the scalding psychodrama it was intended to be. Though Huppert is ideally cast as an emotionally entombed mother haunted by memories of her only daughter, director Alessandro Capone’s conception (working in his non-native French) is studied, with a gummy pace and an inability to reach emotional catharsis that leaves just a hint of what the movie could have been. Huppert’s presence alone will assure fest invites, but buyers will mostly lock in deals for small screen sessions.

Weight of entire pic is on Huppert’s shoulders — or, more specifically, on her face, which is shown as more nglamorous and riddled with age, stress and despair than any other international star has allowed herself to be shown of late.

The image of suicidal Danielle (Huppert), seated in the office of caring shrink Dr. Nielsen (Greta Scacchi), is that of a woman who has stared down the dark, deep hole of her own demise and psychic defeat. It is yet another reminder that there is arguably no other thesp in world cinema who dares push her characters to such radical limits while remaining resolutely human.

After her third suicide attempt, Danielle is in a mental hospital and won’t utter a word. Some brief written notes begin to prompt doctor-patient dialogue, which predictably opens a rush of flashbacks involving a younger Danielle, her bitter upbringing, dubious marriage and a baby she had absolutely no desire to have.

“Hidden Love” never gets creepier than when Danielle, having just birthed daughter Sophie, watches the infant as if it were some odd potted plant she finds repellant.

Capone and co-writer Luca D’Alisera’s adaptation of Danielle Girard’s novel isn’t as interesting as most of the cast, and the film visually struggles against standard TV reference points to get inside Danielle’s head, recalling many of Ingmar Bergman’s more routine projects. Particularly near the end, after a stunning and visceral head-on confrontation between the grown Sophie (a fiery Melanie Laurent) and the mother she profoundly despises, pic plays perceptual games, leaving viewers with a rather pointless set of varying dramatic conclusions.

Final outcome is totally unconvincing.

Scacchi has the hardest role as the listening psychiatrist and makes as much as she can of the standard device of feeling she’s getting drawn into her patient’s problems. Left with little to do is the great Olivier Gourmet as Nielsen’s husband, who at least seems to listen as well as she does.

Luciano Tovoli’s lensing is equally vital in color and black-and-white, with Lawrence “Butch” Morris and Riccardo Fassi’s scoring contributions providing striking modernist chords.

Hidden Love

Italy - Luxembourg - Belgium

Production

A Cristaldi Pictures (Italy) presentation in association with Tarantula (Luxembourg-Belgium)/Soho Films (U.K.)/Backup Films (France). (International sales: Parkland Pictures, London.) Produced by Massimo Cristaldi, Mark Hammond. Executive producers, Marina Gefter, Ronald Chammah. Co-producers, Donato Rotunno, Joseph Rouschop. Directed by Alessandro Capone. Screenplay, Luca D’Alisera, Capone, based on the novel “Madre e Ossa” by Danielle Girard.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor/B&W), Luciano Tovoli; editor, Roberto Perpignani; music, Lawrence “Butch” Morris, Riccardo Fassi; production designer, Marta Zani; costume designers, Nathalie Duroscoat, Uli Simon; sound (Dolby Digital), Ricardo Castro; supervising sound editor, Bridget O’Driscoll; sound re-recording mixer, Jerome Wiciak. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Visions), Sept. 12, 2007. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Isabelle Huppert, Greta Scacchi, Melanie Laurent, Olivier Gourmet. (French dialogue)
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