Isabelle Huppert is one of the most iconic actors working in the film industry at the moment. He is also, possibly, the most enigmatic. At a roundtable for actresses a few years back, the French actor spared no time in saying that none of the characters he has played in his career have changed his outlook on life. His performances over the years are distinctly fickle, yet never quite the same: always enjoying that disregard for composition. ,read this also, All That Breathes review: This Oscar nominee from India is a visually stunning doc on the need for coexistence,
In Benoit Jacquot’s modest new documentary By Heart (Par Coeurs), the camera captures Huppert beyond the context of his art. Here, she’s clearly aware of the cameras waiting to catch her off guard, but will she reveal a little more than what she chooses in plain sight? This exercise in documenting an actor behind the scenes at his most private moments in preparation for this smart little film to be screened at the 2023 Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival. With Isabelle Huppert, By Heart also observed the famous French stage and film actor Fabrice Luchini as he recites Nietzsche and then leaves backstage—creating a double bill of an actor’s encounter with the text in the process. Both of these are due for productions at the Festival d’Avignon in 2021. Interesting to witness it.
The stage is set for the summer of 2021 in Avignon, where Huppert is on his way to a production of Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard. In the car, she is warming up for the screenplay. Yet there is one line in the text that she cannot seem to process and move on. ,The disaster is so unbelievable, I know what to think,” she repeats impulsively in French.I am completely at sea.She says it’s never happened that she’s been stuck on a line in text like this, unable to fathom how to navigate its position in her head. Swift and precise in her words, Huppert walks around with a hidden sense of inquiry of place, people, and character. We see him settle into a makeshift space backstage, take a quick nap in between, and get ready with his classmates—incessantly. Makes sure he has his lines by heart.
In contrast, there is Fabrice Lucchini with whom Jacquot’s lens rests for a long sequence as he recites Nietzsche with gusto in his own voice, always meaning and subtext in his astonishing delivery. His reading is commanding and passionate. Even when he is not reciting those lines, Lucchini is thinking about them—always in his performative element, talking tirelessly to the question of acting, to the significance of Alcestis’ anger. and talks about the process of presenting the text. ,Sentence is not sentence. sentence is reachableJacquot’s camera highlights this all-encompassing need and hunger of an artist who is always striving to perform with a startling sense of truth. Discipline and discomfort is what keeps the actor going.
Moving along at an ornate, brisk pace with handheld camera movements, By Heart offers a rewarding treat for cinema lovers familiar with the work of these two masters of their craft, as they bring a sense of individuality to each of their parts . But you don’t really need to know these people to respond to their preparation, worries, and last-minute mistakes. In one scene, Huppert dances her way across the stage with her hands raised and her head held high, circling in small steps around the same venue. Is she trying to reclaim her sense of place? Is he camera aware? She’ll never really tell.
By Heart steers clear of trying to paint a methodical, introspective snapshot filled with detailed discussions on craft and preparation. The camera is like a fly on the wall, never telling you where to look and where to stand. It simply watches, with the accustomed familiarity of a distant friend, in whose presence these two committed actors prepare and perform. There is beauty and terror in his artistry, but also a total devotion and fearlessness that keeps him chasing that unruly text until it fits right into his artistic puzzle.