Toronto
2 min

Perfecting ambiguity

Mishima meets Paris in The School Of Flesh

MYSTERIOUS OBSESSION. Isabelle Huppert gives a consummate performance as a divorcee who falls for a whoring bisexual, played by Vincent Martinez. Credit: Xtra files

Rarely in a movie do you witness a seamless collaboration between actor and director, but such is the case with veteran French filmmaker Benoit Jacquot and actress Isabelle Huppert in The School Of Flesh.



“The first point of the film for me,” says Jacquot, “was to make the film with Isabelle Huppert – with her, by her, around her. It’s a kind of portrait of Isabelle.”



Huppert is truly the heart and soul of this 1998 film, appearing in almost every frame. The camera follows her face, full of uncertainty, through the tale of an affluent, middle-aged woman who dips into the wild side of life through her obsession with a mysterious stud who works both sides of the gender tracks.



The film transposes to present day Paris a novel by the Japanese, bisexual author Yukio Mishima. It is a splendid cat and mouse game in which every character battles with commitment and self interest. From the couple’s first meeting, through to the film’s end, Huppert’s character, Dominique, and steamy Vincent Martinez as Quentin appear as placid pools, the depths of whom are impossible to plumb.



“The important notion for me is ambiguity,” says Jacquot. “They are all one thing and the contrary thing, always. They never know each other – who is the other, that the other is a good person or a bad person. They never know it and they try. And they never know for themselves, either.”



In the film, Dominique is apparently unfazed by Quentin’s bisexual and whoring past. It’s unclear whether her lack of concern originates from her cosmopolitan, art world familiarity with queer sexuality or simply from a dogged obsession that won’t be shaken, even by news that her kept lover is also shagging an old sugar daddy lawyer, a drag queen co-worker and the pretty, young daughter of a friend of Dominique’s.



“Myself, I don’t know,” says Jacquot of Dominique’s reaction. But the admission comes not from a lack of familiarity with the material but from a total trust in his actor. “How are you supposed to know anyone inside? That is for Isabelle. She knows. That’s what’s important.”



It has been 15 years since they last collaborated in a film version of the Henry James novel Wings Of Desire. With such a perfect collaboration in The School Of Flesh, let’s hope that it is not another 15 years before Jacquot builds another film around the formidable talents of Isabelle Huppert.



The School Of Flesh (in French, with English subtitles) opens in the next couple of weeks. Location TBA; call 444-FILM.