Posts Tagged ‘Isabelle Huppert’

The cast of “Call My Agent!”

“CALL MY AGENT!” My rating: B  (Netflix)

“Call My Agent!” unfolds in a Paris agency representing the cream of French film and television talent.

The gimmick of this French comedy series is that every episode features a guest star, a real-life legend — we’re talking Juliette Binoche, Christopher Lambert, Sigourney Weaver, Jean Dujarden, Isabelle Huppert, Jean Reno —  playing spoiled, temperamental, insecure, misbehaving versions of themselves.

But the real subject of Fanny Herrero’s 24-episode (over four seasons) creation is lying.

The ever-scrambling agents who populate the ASK offices are forever lying to their clients, to their loved ones and to each other.  It’s a requirement of the job, rarely done in malice, and often to protect the fragile feelings of the pampered stars to whom they owe their livings.

But be assured that no lie — no matter how creative or outrageous — remains unexposed for long.

Here’s the thing: despite their problematic relationship with the truth, the characters here quickly win us over.  Herrero and her co-creators have given us personalities that we quickly glom onto. They’re witty and driven and creative, and it’s a thrill to be around them.

Moreover, the series does a terrific job of exploring these different personalities over four seasons. Characters who at first seem mere background figures will at some point emerge as the center of their own episodes and story arcs.

There are too many interesting figures here to explore them all, but here’s a thumbnail analysis of the most important:

Andrea Martel (played by Camille Cottin):  This cutthroat agent and predatory lesbian has to re-evalute her existence when she finds herself pregnant after an impetuous three-way.

Mathias Barneville (Thibault de Montalembert): The head of ASK is sauve and cultured.  Except that in the first episode he gets an unexpected complication — the arrival of Camille (Fanny Sidney), the twenty-something lovechild of his long-ago extramarital affair.  He gives his daughter a job (she’s the most principled person on site) but struggles to keep his wife ignorant of his infidelity.

Ariette Azemar (Liliane Rovere):  The grande dame of the outfit, who’s seen and heard just about everything.  She’s constantly accompanied by her lapdog Jean Gabin (and if you appreciate that bit of name dropping, you’ll love just about everything about this series). (more…)

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Fanzine Harduin, Mathieu Kassovitz

“HAPPY END” My rating: C+

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

It’s got several auteuristic moments and a bevy of solid performances.

But “Happy End” never decides what it’s all about.

At first glance one might assume that this latest effort from director Michael Haneke mostly avoids the extremes of human behavior that mark so many of his titles (“Funny Games,” “The White Ribbon,” “Amour”).   Of course even in a seemingly mundane setting Haneke finds undercurrents of perversion and corruption.

To the extent that “Happy End” has a central character it is 13-year-old Eve (Fanzine Harduin), a dour/stoic kid who in the film’s opening segment makes a cell-phone video of her hamster succumbing to an overdose of Mom’s antidepressants. Hmmm.

Shortly thereafter Eve’s mother dies after a long bout with mental illness and the girl relocates to the mansion occupied by her father, the surgeon Thomas Laurent (Mathieu Kassovitz), his second wife, their newborn son, and other members of the extended Laurent family.

Among these are Eve’s aunt Anne (Isabelle Huppert), who operates the clan’s construction business and is currently occupied with a fatal on-site accident.

Anne’s son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) — Eve’s cousin — is second-in-command and being groomed to take over the business, but it’s pretty obvious he lacks the head or the instincts for the job. He’s depressed.

Jean-Louis Trintignant

Hovering in the background  is wheelchair-bound grandfather Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who may be slipping into dementia and who has his heart set on suicide…though he can’t get anyone to cooperate in his quest for self-destruction.

There’s considerable ugliness percolating beneath the bourgeoise surface of the Laurent clan.  For example, the tech-savvy Eve discovers  that her Papa has been writing explicit erotic emails to a mistress. The girl accepts this with a shrug.  It’s pretty hard to shock her…she oozes the seen-it-all ennui  of a 50-year-old.

And Pierre seems to be totally losing it. He shows up at the wedding of his mother and her English beau (Toby Jones) with a half-dozen African refugees, demanding that they be given a table at the reception.

Haneke’s handling of all this is bleakly comic…but never actually funny.

Making “Happy End” worthwhile is the performance of young Harduin, whose Eve is both compelling and creepy. Whatever genetic sins the family possesses seem to have found their way into her small frame; she radiates a cool pathology that you can’t quite put a name to.  Let’s just say that in some regards “Happy End” bears a resemblance to “The Bad Seed.”

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Isabelle Huppert

Isabelle Huppert

“ELLE”  My rating: B+ 

  130 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Isabelle Huppert has made a career of playing prickly, disturbed, often downright unpleasant figures.

For “Elle” this  reliable fixture of French cinema has taken everything she’s learned in nearly four decades of screen acting and created a character who is charismatic and compelling even as she engages in behavior that most of us would find morally questionable and psychologically twisted.

She more than deserves her Golden Globe win.

Paul Verhoeven’s film begins with the sounds of a violent assault. The fiftysomething Michele (Huppert) has been attacked in her Paris home by a masked intruder who beats and rapes her.

Michele doesn’t report the incident to the cops. Instead she cleans up the mess, trashes her dress, takes a bath, and gets herself tested for STDs.  New locks, a hatchet, and some pepper spray — she’s good to go.

David Birke’s screenplay (based on Philippe Djian’s novel) blends Hitchcockian suspense with one of the deepest character studies the movies have given us in ages.

Most women would be incapacitated by such an attack.  Not Michele. As we learn, she is tough, smart and ruthless.

With her partner  Anna (Anne Consigny) she runs a successful firm where programmers half their age crank out sex-and-violence-drenched video games. “When a player guts an orc,” she tells her staff, “we need to feel the blood on his hands.”

Michele views the world around her — and the lesser beings that inhabit it —with a sense of irony that stops just short of contempt. She can be funny, charming…and she’s certainly attractive.  But apparently she needs no one except her indifferent cat. (more…)

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Jesse Eisenberg, Devin Druid

Jesse Eisenberg, Devin Druid


109 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Louder Than Bombs” is a sort of ghost story, though not of the white-sheet-bump-in-the-night variety.

The first American film from Norwegian auteur Joachim Trier is a quietly devastating study of a father and two sons cut adrift by the death — a suicide, it turns out — of their wife and mother, and how they are haunted by memories, doubts and uncertainties.

Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert, seen in flashbacks and dream sequences) was a photojournalist who specialized in war coverage, not so much of the fighting as of its human toll. Two years have passed since her late-night death in a car crash just miles from her suburban New York home.

Her husband, Gene (Gabriel Byrne), a former actor now a teacher, has tried to keep his boys on an even keel. The oldest, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) is a sociologist with his first university teaching appointment, a wife and a new baby girl.

The younger, Conrad (Devin Druid), is a brooding, uncommunicative loner who refuses to give his concerned father the time of day. It probably doesn’t help that Gene is on the faculty of Conrad’s high school, and thus always lurking just around the corner.

A gallery retrospective of Isabelle’s work is being planned by a journalist colleague  (David Strathairn), whose essay about his deceased friend specifically names her as a suicide.  While Jonah has long been aware of this, Conrad is still under the impression that her death was a random accident. Gene must find a way to tell him the truth.

There’s no shortage of pain in the screenplay by Trier and Eskil Vogt, but also a great deal of love. This achingly humanitarian work lacks a villain — in fact, all three men and the late Isabelle have their own flaws and frustrating facets. (more…)

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James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain...in happier times.

James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain…in happier times.

“THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM”  My rating: C  (Now showing at the Glenwood Arts)

121 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The hype over “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” has been so pervasive that a letdown was pretty much inevitable.

It’s not a bad film — just a minor one. A forgettable one.

Actually, we’re talking about three movies. “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them,” now playing in Kansas City, stars Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy. It’s about the breakup of a marriage in the wake of a tragedy.

But writer/director Ned Benson has created two other films using the same cast and basic plot that tell the story from the separate points of view of the wife, Eleanor, and the husband, Conor. One of these is “TDER: Her”; the other is “TDER: Him.” Presumeably theaters that are showing “TDER: Them” will also book the other two features.

Here’s the problem.  Based on “Them,” I’m not eager to follow these characters for another four hours.

In fact, I found this film irritating despite the solid performances. Benson is a parsimonious storyteller who rations out important information, keeping his cards hidden and giving us what we need to know in meager dribbles.

The film begins with Eleanor’s attempted suicide jump from NYC’s 59th Street Bridge.  Plucked from the East River she spends some time in a pysch ward and then ends up in the suburban home of her parents.  Dad (William Hurt) is a psychologist and educator; Mom (Isabelle Huppert) mostly survives on cigarettes and red wine.

There’s also a younger sister (Jess Wiexler) who with her young son have moved back home after the breakup of her marriage.

How do psychologists raise such psychologically messed-up kids? Just wondering.


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