"Who the Hell is Isabelle Huppert?": A French Star in America

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Abstract

[Extract] “Who the hell is Isabelle Huppert?” was the question the incredulous Senior Vice-President of Domestic Distribution at United Artists (U.A.), Al Fitter, repeatedly asked when notified that Michael Cimino intended to cast her as Ella Watson in Heaven’s Gate (1980). Today, after performing in over 130 films and critically acclaimed the world over, this seems like a ludicrous question, but in 1979, Huppert was not a name recognized widely outside of France. While Heaven’s Gate failed to provide Huppert the Hollywood breakthrough expected, this may well have been for the best. As Mick LaSalle (2012, 99) notes, for most female French émigrés, Hollywood has little to offer besides “marginalization, mediocrity and disappointment,” tending to take great actresses and confine them to roles that are both bland and limited by age. Despite this ill-fated attempt at a big-budget breakthrough, Huppert has maintained a connection with the United States, working largely in independent and small-budget cinema with filmmakers including David O. Russell, Hal Hartley, and Neil Jordan. Far from the insipid roles that have befallen other French talents, small-budget filmmakers working in America have, for the most part, embraced Huppert’s capacity to convey cool intellectualism and restrained flashes of intensity in performances ranging from sweet nymphomaniac ex-nuns to alluring psychopaths. Considering her performances in American productions including Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino 1980), Amateur (Hal Hartley 1994), I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell 2004), and The Romanoffs (Matthew Weiner 2018) as well as her persona in the US press, this chapter seeks to shed some light on the question—who the hell is Isabelle Huppert when she’s in America?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIsabelle Huppert: Stardom, Performance, Authorship
EditorsNick Rees-Roberts, Darren Waldron
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Chapter10
Pages197-216
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781501348921
ISBN (Print)9781501348914
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2021

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