Saturday, July 26, 2008

Susan Sontag on Isabelle Huppert

Nothing special really. It is actually adapated from an address she gave at a function to celebrate Huppert's work (more details at the bottom). It was short so I thought let's copy it here, since it doesn't seem to be available on the internet. It is taken from the book Isabelle Huppert: Woman of Many Faces which I had briefly mentioned before.


I grew up in the American provinces, in the American Southwest. And when I was a child, thinking of growing up and where I wanted to live, I couldn't decide whether I wanted to live in New York or Paris. Those were the two ideas of paradise for me. I luckily got to do both for large periods of my life. I do live in New York, but I certainly consider Paris my second city. I have spent a huge amount of my adult life there, and it's been my pleasure to think of France and French culture and, perhaps more actively than any other part of French culture, French cinema as central to my life...

Isabelle Huppert ... is an actor of unlimited ability, with what looks like already a very long career, a career I consider to be, at most, at midpoint - a body of work and a talent from which we can expect anything in the future, anything and everything.

I would like to mention five attributes of this great actor that make her such a formidable and exemplary presence. I mention them in no particular order, although the very fact that I must give them in a certain order perhaps betrays a certain partly indefensible personal bias. So I will list these five characteristics that I think make for a kind of total artist, a total artist in the most admirable sense.

The first quality that I would mention is beauty. That's not usually the first thing that one mentions, but I think I have an ancient Greek rather than a Christian view of beauty. I think beauty is a virtue - that's a pagan view, not a Christian view, but for me beauty is a virtue. And this is a person who exemplifies and extraordinary physical beauty, something that matters to us a lot in actors, and a lot more than sometimes we are willing to acknowledge consciously.

Then of course, number two: There's something called talent, and what is talent? Talent is above all, expressiveness, eloquence, the capacity for expressiveness.

Third - I say this is in no particular order and yet I can't, as I say, help feeling that some sort of perverse order in involved in the fact that I list them in the way that I do. After beauty, talent or expressiveness, the third I would call intelligence. Intelligence is not a quality that one thinks is necessarily present in a creative constellation. In fact it's very often said you don't have to be intelligent to be a great artist or a great actor. I think great actors are extremely intelligent and I have never met a more intelligent actor, a more intelligent person who is an actor, than Isabelle Huppert.

Fourth: I would mention her fearlessness as an artist, as an actor. And by fearlessness I also mean something very strong. I mean something that contains a large element of ferocity, avidity, appetite, availability, risk taking - a tremendous amount of risk taking.

And last, what may seem to be the opposite pole of the first virtue I mentioned, beauty: her integrity. Her integrity as an artist and - this I can testify as someone who knows her as a friend - her integrity as a human being. So it is an honour and pleasure to have the occasion to express my love and affection, admiration, for this great artist, for this great actor.

Adapted from a presentation at the French Institute/Alliance Francaise's Trophee des Arts Gala honouring Isabelle Huppert, New York, November 5, 2003.

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