"Acting is easy for me," Isabelle Huppert said, not bragging so much as stating a fact. Sitting in a hotel room in Hainan, the tropical resort island known as "China's Hawaii," she leaned back and shrugged her shoulders.
Huppert, the French actress, has twice won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress, twice won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at Venice, and is a two-time winner of the European Film Award for Best Actress. She's acclaimed for her versatility and the subtle gestures and restrained emotions of her portrayals.
In this year's 2nd Hainan Island International Film Festival (HIIFF), Huppert serves as the head of the international jury, judging both Chinese and international films. During the film festival, Huppert accepted an exclusive one-on-one interview with CGTN Digital, talking about her experiences in the film industry, the evolution of women's role in front and behind the camera, the importance of cultural exchange/integration in cinema, as well as sharing her industry insider experiences to Chinese filmmakers and her future plan in China.
In a lot of your biggest films, you play very strong but also very marginalized women. What draws you to these roles?
I approached them as simply as possible if I can say so. Because those rules usually are very complex, not very simple. But I don't try to make them heroines or bigger than they are. I just take them as who they are. They usually come across very strong situations, and I like to observe what kind of reactions they have in these situations. So it's easy for me.
Can you give us one example of how do you observe and where you get the inspiration from?
I think the film gives me inspiration. I don't have the inspiration before; I don't have it after. I have it as we do the film because I think the film is a very, very powerful media. Once you had the camera, once you have the staging, once you have everything that makes the making of the film, the day you do it, the way you feel, if you feel tired, if you feel happy, if you feel sad or whatever, all these kind of elements come in the making of the roller of the film.
In your career, how has the role for women changed in front and behind the camera in the French industry?
As far as I am concerned there, it hasn't changed a lot from the very, very beginning. I was always by pure instinct. And that it was not even a theory for me. It was more like an obligation to myself to take a certain kind of role strong, not necessarily strong women, but strong roles, which is different. By strong rules, I mean big roles in where I could display all this complexity, all these various elements of the personality of the character.
How has that changed in the UK and the U.S. film industry?
Nothing over the years. It does. Gradually it changes. Maybe it's different in the U.S. than in France. Because in France, I think, in a way, I mean, it was maybe easier for a woman to have access to certain responsibilities as directors, even in the technical professions. Maybe a little bit harder in America. I don't know. That's what I was told.
How important is cultural exchange/integration in cinema?
It's not that it is important for me. It's just that it's obvious. So it's even more than important. Ever since I started being an actress, I always did movies abroad. I never confined myself to my own country. I was always curious to discover new other chromatography, so for me, that's what movie making is about – a circulation between different cultures, between different countries. And as an actress, it's normal that I end up doing all these movies in different countries.
What can Chinese movies do to become more popular internationally?
The more we will be able to see Chinese movies and the more it will be more popular. The more we are able to make the movie being seen by other people, and the more it becomes more known, popular. I don't know, more known and loved, but we've seen quite a few Chinese films for a few years, and we are very happy about this.
Do you have any specific suggestions for how we can make the movie be more seen?
I think that a certain movie is more universal than others, but that's the same phenomenon in all countries. We have many movies which will never be seen abroad because they are not so universal. So the more movies are universal, the more they are likely to be seen.
Since you're here in China, have you ever considered to cooperate with Chinese film directors in the future?
I would love to collaborate with Chinese directors as much as I love being collaborating with Korean directors like Hong Sang-soo, Cambodian director Rithy Panh, or Philippine director like Brillante Mendoza. I did quite a few movies in Asia myself, and I would love to do more movies in China, that's for sure.
Is there are a specific director that you like to work with, like, do you have any names in mind?
I was thinking about director Bi Gan. Yes, he's a wonderful, wonderful director. His movies have been very much loved recently. Last, his two movies that were made recently. Yes, Bi Gan is. I met him once in Paris, and he is very, very inspiring. Bi Gan is a great director.
Do you have any suggestions for young Chinese filmmakers in general?
I don't have suggestions. No, I don't have a suggestion. I think that if you're a great director, you don't need a suggestion, you know how to do it.
You are a great supporter of film festivals. So how do you think film festivals are important?
There are not many film festivals which are more important than festivals themselves in their contribution to movie making and in their ability to make all these films being visible in their festivals. That's really important. But usually, in festivals, you have the possibility to see a very large variety of films which makes festivals really very valuable.
What kind of impact do you think the Hainan Island International Film Festival will have?
I heard it's already very successful. I say I heard because I wasn't able to watch myself movies among the audience. I wish (I could). But being part of the jury this year, I saw movies on my side, but I heard that the attendance was great, which is wonderful because this is what you want.
I mean, the festival is the place for people from the movie-making itself can gather and talk and exchange. It's a place for communication, but it's also a place for just showing movies and sharing all these experiences with the audience.
What's your philosophy of life?
My philosophy. I don't know if it's philosophy, just be open, be curious to people, yes.
Huppert has appeared in more than 120 films since her debut in 1971. She holds the distinction of being the most nominated actress for the Cesar Award, winning two Best Actress awards at the Cannes Film Festival, for Violette Noziere (1978) and The Piano Teacher (2001), as well as two Best Actress Awards at the Venice Film Festival, for Story or Women (1988) and La Ceremonie (1995). In 2016, Huppert garnered international acclaim for her performance in Elle, for which she earned a Golden Globe Award, an Independent Spirit Award, and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
In a previous Golden Coconut Awards Jury presser, speaking of her experiences in China, Huppert said: "I've been a few times to China, great experience, I was surprised by the reaction of my film here in China, and how understanding the reactions I've got. In recent years, I've been to Shanghai, Zhengzhou, Beijing. I was surprised by the attention. As an actress, my experience in China was quite fulfilling. And I'm always happy to discover more Chinese films."
After eight days of judging and screening, winners of the Golden Coconut Awards will be unveiled on December 8, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, Best Screenplay. HIIFF is dedicated to strengthening international film and culture exchange and collaboration. A total of 1,495 films from 80 countries have signed up for the festival, according to the organizer.
Filmed by Gao Shengwei
Cover photo by Jia Jieqiong and Li Jingjie
CGTN's Josh McNally and Ye Qing contributed to this report.