best film: Isabelle Huppert’s best film may surprise some or act as fuel for a good trivia question. Her best film is Michael Cimino’s much maligned but splendidly ambitious 1980 film Heaven’s Gate. The film helped sink United Artists studio and it largely killed the career of Cimino (Huppert, John Hurt, Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges and many others involved clearly survived ok). It is Gone with the Wind large (the dance to Blue Danube on the lawns at Harvard, the railroad set piece, the dance roller rink set piece with whirling Steadicam). It shares bloodlines with Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller (both in story and look – both films shot by Vilos Zsigmond). Huppert has a ton of screen time as well so though although this is not her best work by a long stretch, one cannot just write this off as some bit part (Willem Dafoe has a true bit part here where if you blink you miss him) or cameo. When debating Huppert’s best film, The Piano Teacher demands to be considered here, too. Huppert is obviously more at the center of Michael Haneke’s haunting 2001 film.
best performance: The Piano Teacher is the easy answer here for Huppert. The film is undoubtedly one of Haneke’s best works as well. It is an unflinching portrait of a complicated and icy woman. Haneke, like in many of his works, is incredibly brutal here – he means to flatten the viewer. Haneke, wisely, spends a lot of time holding the frame (past the point of comfort for most viewers) on Huppert’s icy stare – any actor would love not only the duration of the shots held on them – but the close proximity of the camera distance. Huppert’s character, Erika Kohut, has twin obsessions: music and sex— repression, self-mutilation. She is clearly cracking up and deteriorating as the film progresses. This singular character study by Haneke is like a PTA film (Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, The Master) without the cinematic visual flair (Haneke would be proud of that distinction- but artistically, it just puts it a notch below). This is an isolated world. Kohut is in lonely person (many of the scenes show her captured or behind bars) – she sneaks off to the adult movie rental store and as her worlds are colliding – she is unable to control herself. She cannot love – the “you’re sick” line – the whole scene is devastating. Huppert’s eyes during that scene displays extremely powerful acting. The finale is perfect – the self-abuse scene and then the gorgeous exterior concert hall which serves as a big, beautiful prison – it actually mirrors the medium-long shot school ending in Cache.
stylistic innovations/traits: Huppert makes bold choices in her roles and auteur collaborators. She often works with provocateurs – so much so that it is sort of surprising she has not collaborated with Lars von Trier at this point (though she has worked with Joachim Trier). Huppert excels at playing seemingly emotionless, icy characters (four films with Haneke seems like a perfect match). Huppert has a whopping sixteen (16) films in the archives at this point and that is a strength. She also has a strong number one best performance – which makes up for not having that second or third best performance that really knock you down. The Paris-born redhead has succeeded on both sides of the pond working over a long, distinguished career – she is bound to have an archiveable film in the 2020s making it five straight decades with an archiveable film.
directors worked with: Michael Haneke (4), Claude Chabrol (2), Jean-Luc Godard (2), Michael Cimino (1), David O. Russell (1), Claire Denis (1), Paul Verhoeven (1)
top five performances:
- The Piano Teacher
- La Ceremonie
- White Material
- Things to Come
|1980- Every Man for Himself|
|1980- Heaven’s Gate|
|1988- Story of Women|
|1995- La Ceremonie|
|2001- The Piano Teacher|
|2002- 8 Women|
|2003- Time of the Wolf|
|2004- I Heart Huckabees|
|2009- White Material|
|2015- Louder Than Bombs|
|2016- Things to Come|
|2017- Happy End|
Did you watch Heavens Gate again and it went up or has The Piano Teacher been downgraded (asking because the latter is on the top 500 but the former isn’t)?
@Harry- Yes indeed- Heaven’s Gate recently and it went up
@Drake – I just finished my second watch of Heaven’s Gate so I’ll share my review here, was planning to see it this week so this is a nice coincidence.
Not many Westerns hit the scale and beauty of Heaven’s Gate. The film opens with a gigantic graduation ceremony at Havard that leads into a huge dance sequence with a horde of extras dotted around a tree on a lawn while the camera sweeps and follows the music around them. This is contrasted later on where the “association” holds their last stand by a tree and they are circled by emigrants on horseback, though this time its gritty close-ups as the dust and gunsmoke of the battle has clogged everyone’s vision. Clarity is returned when the association has calvary backup assist them, a clear longshot details the scope of the battlefield and combat ceases as control is returned to this region.
This is simply one of the most beautiful films of all time, there are over fifty stunners in the homes and buildings of Casper, Wyoming and over fifty more stunners of the landscape that the powers plan to clear of those they view as thieves and anarchists. What Coppola achieved the previous year in Apocalypse Now with smoke and flares, Cimino accomplishes with dust that spews off the damaged land as horses and men trample across it. The gorgeous forests and plains are a more vivid green than any landscapes you will see in other westerns, and compared to just about any other film, Cimino is able to finesse pouring lightbeams into each interior. The visuals never slip over the runtime.
Some of the best location scouting ever (up there with Lean for sure), and some of the greatest battles ever put to film.
The second time around had no issue with the runtime, it was over quickly. I don’t mind the slower pacing of some of the dancing sequences, they are beautiful. Some of the animal cruelty is unfortunate – made me wince.
This is the only work from David Mansfield I’m familiar with but his score is absolutely sublime and livens this film.
No weak links in the pretty impressive cast. Christopher Walken is gifted the best entrance and exit here with a mindblowing introduction as he is shot through a sheet and an equally ambitious exit where he faces off against the world. John Hurt is slimy and is just sticking around the wrong people.
Turns into a BOAT movie at the end which is nice.
Cimino’s critical mistake was firing Dafoe from his speaking role over hearing his laugh, not making a big, beautiful, over-indulgent epic. A masterpiece, I will have to find room for it in my (at least) top 10 of the 1980s now. One day this and Ryan’s Daughter will hopefully get their justice as the top post 60s epics.
@Harry – Chef’s kiss. Well done here, sir.
@Drake – do you think you could put Heaven’s Gate above The Deer Hunter?
@Harry- Thanks for the comment- I am not going to rerack the page and rankings just yet- I’d love to get another shot at The Deer Hunter soon.
@Drake-Are there any films you thought highly of in terms of artistic ambitions but didn’t like it? The characters in the film or what happened in the film or just too much unnecessary scenes mixed with great artistic scenes?
@Malith- Interesting question. I really don’t think in terms of “like” or “didn’t like”- certainly there is some subjectivity that enters in but I try to keep it to what is or isn’t on the screen (which is why I’ll say I missed on something- not something “didn’t speak to me personally” or stuff like that). But I get your question. Malick certainly takes some big swings that do not always land, De Palma, Greenaway, von Trier, Terry Gilliam- I mean they have all made masterpieces of course- but they have also made films (that I still find to be superior to most critics) that were uneven or contained major problems. I am not ready to speak on Bardo fully yet (just saw it Sunday- and want to see it again before doing my 2022 page) but I think this could be part of the discussion here. All These Women from Bergman is one that I was recently talking about with Harry about on the Bibi Andersson page. Now this film is far superior to most (and critics struggled with this one- the RT score is bad) – but there is a masterpiece in there waiting to get out if Bergman didn’t get in his own way with some choices.
I would suggest you look up Loulou (1980) directed by Maurice Pialat co-starring Gerard Depardiieu , Huppert is superb in it.
@marco- love this- thank you for the recommendation marco. I have a Pialat study planned for 2023.
I’ve always felt a PTA-Huppert collaboration would be interesting.