“The Maids”: Isabelle Huppert “Can’t Speak English”

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Two days after the last rendition of her stint on the stage of the Lincoln Center, Isabelle Huppert is likely to be letting out a huge sigh of relief.

To say her performance has received mixed reviews would be generous. Generous and rather inaccurate.

In her role as “Solange” in Jean Genet’s “The Maids”, directed by Benedict Andrews, as part of the Lincoln Centre Festival, Huppert has received wholly negative reviews. Painfully so.

The critics aren’t going after her talent as an actress however, if anything, they are, at times, quite positive about her performance. However, they had no idea what she was saying.

The New York Times calls her the “French screen’s most fearless and incisive stars” but goes on to say that “it’s hard to make that assessment, given that her thick accent renders her unintelligible for much of the time.

And unfortunately, as far as we can tell, it doesn’t get any better for Ms Huppert.

The New Yorker slams the actress. “Huppert’s English in this play is deplorable, and because she doesn’t have a handle on it she can’t attach her soul to it, or to the part. Her Solange has no weight, because she doesn’t understand the text, and so Blanchett has only a Greer Lankton-like puppet to play against.

Time Magazine tells us “Blanchett is ravishingly watchable throughout. But the production around her seems out of kilter. One problem is Huppert, who is neither very convincing nor very compelling as her sister. Her small frame is overwhelmed by the tall, strapping, more charismatic Blanchett, and her heavily accented English simply does not bring out the nuance and naturalistic menace in Genet’s language.”

Perhaps Huppert’s limited grasp of the English language was a stylistic choice by director Benedict Andrews? An alienation technique designed to further highlight the differences between the two sisters?

The Wrap gives the only somewhat positive review we have been able to find (not including reviews that just overlook Huppert completely).

“Maybe it’s part of Andrews’s alienation technique, like the video cameras and screen, but Huppert can’t speak English. Over half her dialogue is unintelligible, as if she were delivering her lines phonetically. But as any aficionado of camp knows, there’s nothing as compelling as a misguided performance delivered with true gusto.”

Finally, the LA times’ review responds to this take on Huppert’s performance.

“She’s fascinating to watch and as fearless as her fellow performers, but her halting command of English is too conspicuous to overlook or intellectually rationalize.”

If we try to look away from Huppert’s linguistic struggles, pundits seem to be divided about her physical performance.

The Wrap, remaining generally positive, shares with us that Huppert “mugs outrageously, and since she’s a good head shorter than Blanchett and Debicki, her jumping around the stage like the mistress’s pet Chihuahua never fails to draw laughs.”

Meanwhile, the LA times, says that they are in two minds about Andrews’ lineup. Claiming, and they’re not alone saying this, that it “doesn’t provide a level playing field for the enigmatic, physically whimsical Huppert.” 

All in all, not the most positive end to Isabelle Huppert’s stint in the Big Apple. The French actress will not struggle to move on from her meager reviews, she is rumoured to appear in two films in 2014 and 2015 where she is bound to feel more at ease than on stage.

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