The Shape of a Question

A fragile creature that cannot be broken is confounding, and this juxtaposition of delicacy and strength renders it freakishly powerful. Isabelle Huppert is so constituted. This is evident from almost every one of the dizzying number of films in which she has appeared. Her aura is incongruously encased in an exceedingly slim frame. Animated by the whirling of an inhuman engine, she provokes awe, disgust, lust, and adoration. She has said that the art of acting requires a peculiar combination of passivity and power, and passive power is precisely what she exudes. It emanates from her with unmistakable and inexplicable force. Huppert is just over five feet tall, and thin in a way that would be grotesque if she were slightly taller. If you held her with your hands on each of her hips, pressing your thumbs down along the slope of her hip bones, you would feel as if you could break her in half. She would look you dead in the eye and invite your violence. It is impossible to identify which combination of her physical characteristics confers beauty — she is slightly too pretty to be plain and not by any conventional standard sexy enough to justify her undeniable physical magnetism. Huppert burns even when she is icy. She always does — every variation of her, in all of the hundreds of films and plays in which she has been serially reincarnated. Some believe that it is an actor’s job to camouflage herself so that the person playing the part seeps entirely into the character and disappears. For some, that is what is meant by “acting.” Huppert thinks otherwise. In all of her roles she is always also herself. This is especially remarkable because of her subtlety, her utter lack of interest in “pulling focus”; she is

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