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Isabelle Huppert on Fateful Encounters, the Nature of Acting and Judging a Good Script

Celebrated actress Isabelle Huppert, speaking at the Sarajevo Film Festival on Sunday, looked back on her illustrious career in a candid discussion that touched on her acting, the many renowned directors with whom she’s worked, and the importance of dialogue.

The festival honored Huppert with its Honorary Heart of Sarajevo award “in recognition of her exceptional contribution to the art of film,” which has included collaborations with the likes of Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard and Michael Haneke.

Huppert said much of her success has depended on the vision of filmmakers and the way they have sought to portray her on screen.

“In an actor’s life it’s all about the encounters that you have at the top of the pyramid, which is the director. The director decides how you are going to be looked at, the way you are going to be desired, the way you are going to be loved. It’s nothing more, it’s nothing less, it’s all about those various and numerous encounters with directors. It started in my case with Chabrol, with whom I did seven movies.”

Huppert said the relationships developed with the people she collaborated with “gave me the sense of doing something, of achieving something as an actor.”

She added: “For me moviemaking is really about the present time, nothing before and not much after it’s done. It doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the audience.”

Huppert described the process of making a film as a “kind of silent language between the directors and the actors. It’s more about intuitions and impressions and feelings – it’s quite nice actually, but it’s not so easy to describe, as I guess are all professions of creativity. I don’t think of myself as creative or as an artist.”

She explained: “I don’t think anybody can see themselves as an artist. No one can define themselves as an artist. It’s your right to define me as an artist, but it’s certainly not my position to define me as an artist. As an actor you are an interpreter, which is fine for me. It doesn’t give me any frustration. It’s a fact.”

Acting is not something “very technical,” Huppert offered. “There is no real method. It happens, or it doesn’t happen. It happens if it’s the right person in front of you.”

On her collaborations with Haneke, Huppert quipped: “We started by not doing movies together,” explaining that the Austrian filmmaker had originally approached her for his 1997 thriller “Funny Games,” which she turned down, and again for “Time of the Wolf,” which she couldn’t do because she was pregnant.

“Finally after three of four years he came with ‘The Piano Teacher’ and he said of course the most pleasing thing for an actress to hear, which was, ‘If you don’t do it, I won’t do it.’ So I did it.”

Huppert later went on to make “Time of the Wolf,” “Amour” and “Happy End” with Haneke.

Asked about what she looks for in scripts, the actress said: “The script is a very specific tool for work. It’s not a book, it’s not a film, it’s not very nice, a script. When a film comes with too many descriptions it makes me very suspicious. I want to say, ‘Write a book if you want to be a writer, don’t be a filmmaker. … A script should give you a few bits of information. For me, the most important thing in the script is the dialogue. Through the dialogue I know if it’s a good script.”

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