Lillian Gish once directed her sister Dorothy in a silent film, "Remodeling Her Husband." Now, 66 years later, there's another director-actress sister act: the Hupperts. Caroline Huppert directs her sister Isabelle in "Sincerely Charlotte," a French love story/murder mystery that opened here Friday.
Unlike Lillian Gish, who stepped into the director's chair at the last minute and never directed a camera before or since, Caroline Huppert has been directing theater and television for 13 years. "Sincerely Charlotte," which she also wrote, is her first feature film. It's Isabelle's 34th, including "The Lacemaker," "Heaven's Gate" and "Entre Nous."
"Sincerely Charlotte" is about Charlotte, a young woman on the run from the police. She seeks help from Mathieu, a former lover, whohas since settled into a relationship with another woman, Christine. Mathieu soon falls back in love with Charlotte and runs away with her. But Charlotte has other ideas.
Here briefly after spending 10 days in North Dakota filming a prison rodeo for French television, Huppert notes that "my career has been the exception in France. I've been very lucky. When I wanted to do something, I could. No other woman in France has directed theater, television, journalistic documentaries and now feature films."
Huppert became a writer only after she started directing for television in 1979. Interestingly, one of her TV films was about Alice Guy, generally acknowledged to have been the first woman director. "I don't like to film stories of other people," she explains. "I have to write the script. When I read the script of someone else, I can't see how the girl looks. When I write it myself, I know."
New York and Los Angeles critics have generally praised "Sincerely Charlotte," but Huppert reports regretfully that "the film was not a success in France. I can't say why. Perhaps the French public didn't like to see Isabelle and me speaking about the film. Possibly they said, 'Ah, little sisters, always together. Maybe it's not a good film.'
"Maybe it's because the girl is too crazy or that the ending is not happy. I think the French people don't like it when the man is not a hero. This film shows the man losing something.
"And Charlotte loses something very important--the opportunity to become a real woman. She prefers all her life to stay a child. That's not a good solution. Only Christine (who waits for Mathieu to come back) is a winner. She has an idea in her head, and she keeps it. She likes the man, the child, the home.
"I like this kind of story," Huppert adds. "Maybe I'm too romantic. Love is always impossible. In all my films I show the flaws of love. That's the way life is. In France we say, 'Happiness is not a story.' "
Huppert is very attached to this story because, she acknowledges, "It's based on some events in my life. The story is quite autobiographical except for the crime, which was an element of fantasy.
"I began to write it five years ago. It was like an exorcism. After I finished the film I felt better. It was like psychoanalysis. This film was very important for me. I had to do it. I was like Charlotte, but now maybe I'm more like Christine. I try. I have children, and I think children give you a sort of quiet."
While Huppert wrote "Sincerely Charlotte" for herself, she also wrote it for her sister. "We're very alike, but we're also quite different," she explains. "When we were little girls, we were always together. Isabelle was very nervous and afraid of everything. I wasn't like that, so I could speak to her and tell her, 'Don't be afraid.' I was like a mother to her although I was only two years older."
The two women look somewhat alike, although Caroline, 35, is more strawberry blond and slightly less svelte. Over the years, they have remained close friends. "Isabelle is exactly like me, so it was not very difficult to write for her. But when I showed her the script I just told her, 'I've written a story. What do you think? Do you like it?'
"Isabelle said, 'It's a good story. Why not for me? I want to do it.'
Huppert had directed her sister once before, about eight years ago in a French play. "It was a big success," Huppert recalls. "Maybe I find it easier to direct Isabelle because we know each other so well. Sometimes we don't need to speak a lot. We only have to do.
"Part of Isabelle's talent is that she can be very different every day. She's a changeable woman, both in 'Sincerely Charlotte' and in life. One day she's happy, the next day depressed. Sometimes she's very funny, sometimes sad. That was very good for the story."