What It’s Like to Be Friends With Isabelle Huppert and Michael Haneke

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Isabelle Huppert and Michael Haneke. Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Last week, we discovered the pure joy that is knowing that Jane Campion and David Lynch hold hands when in each other’s presence. Now I am proud to report that Cannes produced another unlikely set of hand-holders: Isabelle Huppert and her four-time collaborator Michael Haneke (Amour, The Piano Teacher). “We are friends!” Huppert announced, grabbing Haneke’s hand with glee during an interview for their new film, Happy End. It was an amazing, loving sight, given just how — what’s the word? — sadistic their work together tends to be.

Even more surprising, though, is that Haneke, 75, and Huppert, 64, both seem to have taken a keen interest in social media, which fits into the movie’s themes, per Haneke, of “the autism of Western society and our indifference to the rest of the world.” A deeply dark comedy about a disintegrating bourgeois family, led by Huppert, Happy End actually begins with footage from the social-media stream of an unseen 12-year-old. At first it’s innocent footage of her mother’s bathroom routine, but then it takes a turn: The girl feeds her hamster her mother’s depression meds just to see what happens, and then writes crude commentary over footage of her mother collapsed in the living room. And that, folks, is what happens when Michael Haneke discovers Snapchat. We spoke to the duo about their social-media habits, karaoke, and Haneke’s newfound love of Sia. Here’s what we learned:

Even Isabelle Huppert thinks it’s weird she’s on Instagram.
As a member of a pre-pre-internet generation and the chicest woman in France, and perhaps the world, Isabelle Huppert as an Instagram user makes zero sense. La Huppert doesn’t need to self-promote; we’re already obsessed. Yet, somehow, she’s had an account since last September, with a delightful feed of her with fellow redheads Jessica Chastain and Julianne Moore, and dream collaborator Barry Jenkins. How in tarnation did this come about?

“It’s been a bit strange. I don’t know why I did it, actually,” she says. “I mean, every other day I said I should close it. Sometimes I think it’s nice, but sometimes I don’t really see the purpose of it.” She’s aware someone has made a fake Twitter and fake Facebook for her, but she’s only on Instagram herself, and only because someone talked her into it and promised she’d never have to post personal photos or engage with the hilarious comments section herself, in which fans poke loving fun at how rarely Huppert smiles in photos. “I don’t even know how to use it,” says Huppert, laughing. “I don’t even have access to my account myself! So I do it completely blind and someone takes care of it.”

Haneke learned about Snapchat from actual 12-year-olds, who consulted on the script.
“Snapchat is not something that interests me,” Haneke says, “but of course I researched it.” One of his main protagonists is that 12-year-old girl, Éve (Fantine Harduin), who has to move in with Huppert’s character’s family after her mother overdoses, and Haneke wanted to make sure he was creating an authentic portrayal of youth today. So he created an imitation of the Snapchat interface (for legal reasons they couldn’t use the real thing) and brought in his adolescent grandchildren, as well as the kids of his French translator, as script consultants to tweak the jargon. “I don’t know what extent that comes through in English subtitles,” he says, “but in French it’s clear it’s a very specific language of young people.”

As for his own social-media usage, Haneke admits he’s as tethered to his iPhone as anyone else, and regularly checks social media, even if he doesn’t post anything himself. “If you’re looking at contemporary society it’s absolutely essential,” he says, telling me he’s fascinated about how quickly the means of communication have improved, without, it seems, any improvement in actual human connection. “All you have to do is go to the café at the next street corner and look at people and how they communicate with each other,” he says. “Even couples aren’t talking to each other. They’re looking at their smartphones and typing away on them.”

The two are so simpatico they communicate almost by telepathy.
Huppert and Haneke are so in tune with each other they don’t need to text or talk on the phone. “Michael lives in Vienna most of the time and I live in Paris,” said Huppert, “but we are in touch anyway. Even if we do not call each other every day, we are connected. We are very close because we are friends!” This is when she grabbed his hand and clutched it to her heart.

“When we finish a project and we are separating, we just say, ‘See you next time,’” said Haneke, “and then you see us in two years on the next project.” Haneke doesn’t even pitch movies to Huppert anymore; he just asks her to show up.

“He doesn’t need to explain and I don’t want explanations,” she said. “I just say, ‘Give me the script.’”

“She is an adult person. She knows how to read,” said Haneke, laughing. “If the cast is right, you do not need to explain the characters. If the cast is wrong, you can explain whatever you want; it will not work.”

Haneke has watched that Sia “Chandelier” video a gazillion times.
The movie’s most indelible scene, in which Huppert’s character’s fuck-up son (played with dark intensity by Franz Rogowski) goes full Maddie Ziegler in a drunken karaoke rendition of Sia’s “Chandelier,” wasn’t Haneke’s idea. But the second Rogowski suggested it, the director did recognize the opportunity to mix desperation, camp, and terrible singing. It turns out that Haneke was already familiar with the Sia video (again, grandkids). “The girl who did the original — is she American? — she’s so well-known that there are lots of parodies of that performance on the internet,” he said. “So we decided to come up with an alternative of our own, which was difficult because, like me, that actor doesn’t know how to sing. But he’s very strong and physical.”

Huppert agrees. “I love that scene, too, Michael,” she said. “It’s so powerful and disturbing. It says everything about loneliness and craziness and solitude and disturbance just through the body language.”

Haneke agrees with me and the rest of the world that Huppert needs to sing in public more often.
As I have noted previously, Huppert’s rendition of “Happy Birthday,” sung onstage at host of Cannes’s 70th anniversary celebration, will change your life. And Haneke agreed, telling her how impressed he’d been, as they sat in front of me. “You sounded super!” he told her. “It would be impossible for me. I feel much too embarrassed when I’m singing.”

Huppert seemed genuinely touched. “Coming from you, Michael, that is the best compliment!” she said. “Because he knows music.” It had been Huppert’s idea to sing onstage, and she’d been encouraged, she said, by something the famed avant-garde stage director, Robert Wilson, once told her. “I remember once I was singing for Bob and he said, ‘You have a microphone voice,’ meaning, your voice gets even better with the microphone: When you sing with the microphone, you feel the potential of your voice.”

Further evidence that Huppert is a chanteuse for the ages: Video that’s surfaced of her singing along with a mariachi band Salma Hayek brought to the Cannes 70th after-party. “I had no idea what I was singing because it was all in Spanish,” she said, “so I was reading lips, movements of the people. The only song I really knew was the one that goes, ‘Ay ay ay ay’” — Cielito Lindo. “That’s the only one everyone knows.”

Huppert — who knew? — is a karaoke fanatic.
Haneke doesn’t do karaoke (“Me? No! Never!”), but Huppert loves it. And we have Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien (who won Best Director at Cannes in 2015 for the slow and insanely beautiful martial-arts flick The Assassin) to thank for that. Years ago, when they were hanging out in Taipei, Hou took Huppert karaoke-ing for the first time. “All people from Asia, they are very keen on karaoke,” she said. “It’s very in their culture, even someone like Hou Hsiao-hsien. He’s the first person I ever did karaoke with. In Asia you go to these small rooms in upper floors in hotels and you spend hours doing karaoke. It’s very funny. I love it!”

“It’s crazy he loves doing karaoke,” Haneke chimed in. “I would not like to sing. Never.”

“Michael wouldn’t necessarily sing [karaoke],” said Huppert, “but if he was forced to do it, he would sing opera, something classical.”

What’s Huppert’s karaoke go-to? “I would sing Edith Piaf,” she said, “because you can really let your voice go.”

There you go, filmmakers of the world: Isabelle Huppert loves singing Edith Piaf in her spare time. If that isn’t in a movie in the next two years, you only have yourselves to blame.

Cannes: Isabelle Huppert and Michael Haneke Are Best Friends