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Villa Amalia is the story of Ann, a musician, whose life is turned upside down by a kiss. When she sees Thomas kissing another woman, Ann makes a clean break, leaving him and everything else far behind her. Suddenly unsure of everything that seemed so certain, Ann knows only that she must change her life and become someone else to find herself. With her music and the friendship of Georges, who pops out of her distant past, she sets off on a journey that will take her to an island where the Villa Amalia stands. Written by
The Film Catalogue
Huppert, twice a Best Actress winner there, has been elected president of 2009's Cannes festival jury. This is is her fifth gig for Jacquot, the previous ones being Les ailes de la colombe (1981), L'école de la chair (1998), Pas de scandale (1999), and La fausse suivante (2000). L'école de la chair is the adaptation of a Yukio Mishima story 'The School of Flesh,' a dry yet passionate tale of pride and power in love involving a wealthy woman's affair with an unpredictable young bisexual hustler (Vincent Martinez). Huppert was as remarkable as she's ever been in the underrated 'School of Flesh,' a haughty, elegant beauty often drenched in tears.
'Villa Amalia' is another literary adaptation, this time from a novel by French author Pascal Quignard that won the Prix Goncourt. It concerns a woman who remakes herself, and the formidable Huppert is equal to the task. Again Jacquot's treatment is dry, and this time the motivations and emotional ties are more talked about than felt. The voyage however is more focused and less fatuous than the young French actress' trip to India in Jacquot's previous movie, 'The Untouchable' (2006) In fact there is a terrifying and mysterious intensity about the protagonist.
Ann (Huppert) fleetingly sees her long-time boyfriend Thomas (Xavier Beauvois) kissing a woman in the doorway of their house. From then on she will have nothing further to do with him. Something clicks. It's not just him. This is just the last straw. She's fed up with her life. Her realization comes quickly and her actions also. She is a concert pianist. She stops playing in the middle of a concert, and cancels the rest of the season. She bundles up all her clothes in some very large plastic bags and puts them in the trash. (Hasn't thought about recycling, it seems.) Burns snapshots and papers, and a couple of CDs. (Hasn't thought about toxic waste damage either.) Coincidentally, right after seeing Thomas that evening, she runs into Georges (Jean-Hugues Anglade), a friend from her youth who turns out to carry the flame for her, although he also seems to be gay. A lonely fellow, Georges, he is dying to share meals with her. They do have one restaurant dinner. She says she loves eating out alone. He hates it. He also had a little cabin attached to his house she can use for her practicing. She has not vowed to give up playing; even less her composing, for she does compose, and we see her doing it.
Ann uses the self-effacing Georges to efface herself. She takes out all her money from the bank and Georges agrees to keep it in his account, so her name is no longer on anything. She has decided to sink below the global radar and so must have no cell phone, no email, no credit cards. And off she goes, leaving poor Georges and Thomas (who keeps pleading to be taken back) far behind and taking public transportation first northward, then south. She's talked to Georges about Tangier. In fact after a long swim--made credible by our seeing her doing constant workouts in public pools in the lead-up--she somehow winds up on the island of Ischia, disappeared among yachts like the girl in Antonionni's 'L'Avventura.' Here, with her hair cut short and minimal belongings, she sets up a retreat, persuading an old Italian woman to let her use an abandoned building she finds at the top of a hill. (It's painted a lovely faded Chinese red, which goes perfectly with Isabelle's coloring and hair.) She lets Georges come and visit her. She's taken up with a girlfriend, a lovely young Italian woman (Maya Sansa), who comes in a boat with her ex-boyfriend and rescues Ann when she has swum out too far. She composes, drawing the bars on paper herself with a pencil.
When Isabelle Huppert says no, and trashes her possessions, you don't know really why. She doesn't seem to know. But with Huppert, there's a devastating self confidence that makes it plausible. This is said to be faithful to the Quignard novel; I cannot comment, not having read it. The film is an experience, even if it feels in some ways derivative and unsatisfying.
'Villa Amalia' opens in France April 9, 2009. It is part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, March 2009.
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