French Cinema Icon, One Frame at a Time

Celebrity portraits of the versatile, shocking Isabelle Huppert

Isabelle Huppert, a veteran in French cinema, is perhaps best known for her performance as Erika Kohut, a sexually repressed and self-destructive piano teacher in director Michael Haneke’s 2001 psychological drama “La Pianiste.” Huppert received the Best Actress award for the role at the Cannes Film Festival. Alternately, U.S. audiences may have been introduced to her in François Ozon’s popular, campy, black comedy/ musical mystery “8 Femmes,” released in 2002.

The actress has appeared in more than 90 films and is still going strong. Throughout her career she has taken on some of the most challenging roles showing considerable versatility and range in her acting vocabulary; her performances have often shocked audiences. Even in New York City at a Quad Cinema showing of the film “Ma mère,” in which she portrays a mother ensconced in a twisted incestuous relationship with her son, about a quarter of the audience walked out.

In the exhibition “Woman of Many Faces: Isabelle Huppert,” at P.S. 1 in Long Island City, the actress is captured by many of the preeminent photographers of our time, including Sylvia Plachy, Roni Horn, Nan Goldin, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Philip-Lorca Dicorcia, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. The photographs show Huppert over a range of time through her career and life as well as in a variety of emotions, each capturing a striking facet of a fascinating woman. One image, by Patrick Faigenbaum, captures her in a state of sorrow and solitude. Its gray tonality and Huppert’s expressive gaze invite the viewer into an intimate familiarity while maintaining a cool emotional distance.

Susan Sontag described Isabelle Huppert as having five essential qualities that underlie her excellence as an actress—beauty, talent, intelligence, fearlessness, and integrity. Each photograph captures and conveys a different aspect of those essential characteristics.

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