Style in Film: Isabelle Huppert’s Red Leather Gloves in A Comedy of Power

Isabelle Huppert in A Comedy of Power - the red gloves 
With this year’s Elle and Things to Come, Isabelle Huppert is challenging female stereotypes. But the truth is she has been honing her ferocious talent for over forty years. In Claude Chabrol’s 2006 L’ivresse du pouvoir (A Comedy of Power), Isabelle Huppert played Jeanne Charmant-Killman, a fierce, dedicated French investigating magistrate who embarks on uncovering a vast web of corruption at the highest levels. As in many of her films, Huppert does not have a match in this one either. Fuelled by nicotine, a killer instinct when it comes to corrupted officials and a relentless desire to serve justice, Charmant-Killman is set to get every one of the buffoonish conspirators she interviews one by one, greeting every ridiculous statement they make with a sarcastic smile.
Isabelle Huppert red leather gloves Chabrol A Comedy of Power 
Jeanne is a singular character. I found it interesting to see the direction the film eventually took, by choosing to focus on character development rather than sticking to relate a story of a political scandal based on real events. When promoting the film, costume designer Mic Cheminal said she saw Jeanne “as a ghost, hence her ethereal silhouette. Very stylish, chiseled. That’s why she wears dark colours.” Sharp suits in sober shades, muted-toned blouses, fit for the position she has. She has an edgy grace. One of the few bright colours she wears is her blue trench, thus “hinting that she may have a life” outside her work. It can also hint to a warmer side of Jeanne that only the candid talks with her nephew, Fèlix (Thomas Chabrol), seem to bring to light.

The only other colours Huppert wears are in her accessories: pink-rimmed glasses, red gloves, red handbag. About her glasses, Isabelle said that they revealed a sign of self-affirmation and a touch of femininity. It’s easy to imagine a well-dressed judge, but, in case of a woman, it can be an indication of her power and beliefs. And then, a certain elegance lends Jeanne confidence when confronting all those men.
Isabelle Huppert - red leather gloves - L'ivresse du pouvoir

Isabelle Huppert red leather gloves A Comedy of Power 
But it was the red gloves that got most of my attention in the wardrobe department. They are seen so often that you inevitably start thinking about their symbolism. The camera does not necessarily look for them, but it always lingers on this pair of red leather gloves. They are Balenciaga, as are, in fact, all of Isabelle’s clothes in the film, designed by none other than Nicolas Ghesquière. The French designer loves movies and Claude Chabrol is one of his favourite filmmakers. Ghesquière’s fashion inspiration is often rooted in the film world and he even used as source of inspiration for one of his Balenciaga collections “a certain French bourgeoise elegance of the 1970s, impersonated by Stéphane Audran in Chabrol’s movies”, as he was saying in an interview for Libération a few good years before his collaboration on L’ivresse du pouvoir.
Isabelle Huppert Balenciaga red gloves A Comedy of Power

Isabelle Huppert red gloves A Comedy of Power 
Isabelle Huppert is an actress who, in her own words (in an interview for The Criterion Collection), first thinks about the director, then about the script and then about the role when choosing a film. But the directors she’s worked with put the same kind of trust in her. In A Comedy of Power, for example, she seems to have worked closely with Chabrol on the costumes, too, and even advanced the idea to call the film “Red Gloves” to suggest that from the very moment one exercises a power over human beings, one’s hands redden. “Don’t they call my job the most powerful one in the state?”, she asks at some point. And the deeper she digs and the more she uncovers, the more powerful she becomes.

The irony is that she has as much power as they let her have – a comedy of power, because the film is just as much about Charmant-Killman’s apparent invulnerability as it is about corporate fat-cats who believe they are above the law and whom she is after. Chabrol’s films indeed draw a very fine line between sarcasm and darkness.
Isabelle Huppert red leather gloves A Comedy of Power

Note: This article has also appeared on The Big Picture Magazine

photos: film stills | Alicéléo / France 2 Cinéma / A.J.O.Z. Films / Integral Film

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Stella McCartney and the Plain Sweater

Stella McCartney and the plain sweater 
She is a designer who only wears her own creations. The blazers she makes are probably my favourite pieces from her collections. She wears them well, too. And we are just as used to seeing her dressed in an impeccable trouser suit as we are to seeing her in a dress with an interesting cut. But today I am looking at how Stella McCartney is wearing the plain sweater, one of the most basic items there are. Maybe it’s because this simple look taps into the belief that some designers prefer to keep their personal appearance low-key, which affords them undisipated attention to their creative work, like in the case of Mr. Giorgio Armani and his signature simple t-shirt. Maybe it’s because she is a woman who clearly loves a beautiful dress with heels, but who can make a sweater look so elegant, grown-up and put-together and the only thing you want to wear all autumn long. Because, yes, I am being practical, and, dang it, I love seeing someone in the fashion business keeping their cool, in ethics and personal style, despite all the fashion forward conventions and all the distractions around.
Stella McCartney and the plain sweater

photos: Vogue Korea / via Arabia

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Babette’s Feast

Babette's Feast 
Babette’s Feast (1987) is based on Karen Blixen’s story by the same name, another one of the Danish author’s books which has been beautifully served by the moving picture. It is the tale of Babette, a Parisian chef (Stéphane Audran) displaced by the 1830s Communard uprising who comes to live in a frugal Christian community on Denmark’s Jutland coast. She works as a maid and cook to two elderly sisters, Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kjer), and she also cooks for the elderly in the village, all of whom are unaware of her culinary past. She bends to their ascetic life and diet for years, but when she wins the lottery, instead of returning to France, she takes the opportunity to treat the community to a lavish, multi-course French dinner.

The feast is indeed one of my favourite parts of the entire movie, but not necessarily because of the food. It is especially because of the careful depiction of the passion and craft that go into cooking, into sourcing all the right ingredients, into choosing the perfect wine for every dish. Because of the plot leading up to it which is all the more important for the climax scene as it shows the simple, refrained, self-denial existence the people in the village lead and that food is a mere necessity for them. At dinner they refuse to enjoy themselves vocally, but not because their senses are immune to the pleasures of good food and drink, but rather because of habit. Because of Stéphane Audran, whom I loved in every Claude Chabrol film she played, and in others, too, and who hovers a subtle sensuality over this remote community and over the movie. And because this Danish film tells a fine tale of French cuisine.

But aside from the feast sequence, what I enjoyed probably even more was the sly humour throughout the entire film, the nuanced notion underneath that these people are missing something, and those moments when an elderly from the village is brought lunch. It’s sheer pleasure he expresses when he tastes it and at first you have the impression it’s solely because of hunger. As the plot advances you realise it’s more than that (he becomes clearly upset when he is brought a meal that is not cooked by Babette and he knows it even before eating it, from the consistency of the food). This suggests not exactly a colourless, pleasureless relationship with food, but a much layered perception and appreciation of it.

photo: movie still | Panorama Film, Det Danske Filminstitut, Svensk Film

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The Perfect Fall Wardrobe, Made Easy

Fall Coat Cuyana 2016 
You know how I always talk about men’s style, that they do it better, simpler, easier? Well, coming across the image above made me say: They did it! “They” as in Cuyana, one of my favourite women’s apparel brands. This is a look that seems to go by all the style rules men apply, but so undeniably and refreshingly feminine at the same time. These are clothes designed with a woman’s sensibility and comfort, too, in mind. Indeed, Cuyana has proved time and again, season after season since its launch some years ago, that women’s style should not be complicated, showy, fleeting. And that practical can look refined and feel luxurious. That simpler is better, fewer is better, that classic style is here to stay and that, in the case of women, too, it deserves just as much admiration and following as men’s style.
The perfect wardrobe made easy Cuyana 
From the knee-long wool coat – the first look above I was mentioning involving this piece is flawless, but so is the styling of the same coat with a silk dress and beanie (see below) and I gravitate towards the latter because I do find great pleasure in playing the unexpected card – to the cropped version, from the cashmere turtleneck in relaxed shape, to the softest alpaca scarf in the creamiest shade, their entire autumn line represents my ideal fall wardrobe, and they seem to have known it before I did.
The turtleneck Cuyana 2016

The scarf Cuyana fall 2016

Fall essentials made easy Cuyana

photos: Cuyana

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Seven of My Favourite Films Noir

In A Lonely Place 
There are too many films noir I’ve watched (being my favourite genre), but I viewed many of them (some of the best, I might say) so long ago that I have recently started to revisit them. So here are a few of my very favourites, let’s call this the first part. Before moving on, let me say this. You won’t find Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon or Sunset Boulevard here. I have always thought that the first two are overrated, and, as for Sunset Boulevard, although I consider it one of the best noirs ever, I have chosen another one of Billy Wilder’s as a personal favourite. I have also made an effort to include just one Hitchcock film for the sake of diversity (but others will follow). And last, but not least, I would like to point out that there are still many European noirs I have to watch again, and these are some of the best this film genre has offered us.
In A Lonely Place 
In A Lonely Place (1950)
My favourite noir, without a shadow of a doubt. Bogart in one of his finest performances, Gloria Grahame and a relationship that is doomed. Their love is absolute, they belong to each other, but they can not have a life together. It doesn’t matter whether he killed somebody or not, but whether he was capable of it, which he was. Halfway through the film (directed by Nicholas Ray), Dixon goes over a piece of dialogue from a screenplay with Laurel while driving in his car: “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” It will become their story, too. One of the most memorable lines in the history of cinema.
Rififi 1955 
Rififi (1955)

It was hailed by François Truffaut as “the best noir I’ve seen”. I used to think so, too, and sometimes I still do (I guess my European sensibility still favours it). No femme fatale, no star-actors and a heist sequence that lasts for about 30 minutes, with no dialogue or music. It is of such brilliance that it makes you root with the jewel thieves. It emphasizes the incredible dynamism of the film, keeps the tension to a peak by pure genial means of visual and editing. If it were for it alone, Rififi (directed by Jules Dassin) would still have made the cut to the top of my list. Another notable scene, and one of my favourites, is the one in the nightclub, where Magali Noël is performing the title song in front of a stage of silhouetted figures: noir archetypes in suits, fedoras, brandishing guns and smoking cigarettes. A scene of great visual impact and a smart noir within noir moment from Dassin. Rififi was the perfect film noir of a nearly ending era.
Shadow of A Doubt 1943 
Shadow of A Doubt (1943)

Shadow of A Doubt takes turn with Rear Window as my favourite Hitchcock film. As I was recently saying in a different blog post (talking about what to watch, read and listen to this fall), the thing that still intrigues me the most about Shadow is the contradiction between the strong sense of family life depicted and the dark underlay, something very unusual for the genre, and for Hitchcock, as a matter of fact. It is a very well rounded film.
Angel Face 1952 
Angel Face (1952)

My favourite Otto Preminger noir is Angel Face, sleek and shocking, costarring Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum. The film centers around Simmons’ portrayal of Diane Treymayne, a spoiled, sheltered rich girl with murderous instincts. With her angelic exterior that masks a demonic core, she reminds me of Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven. The two actresses have portrayed two of the best femme fatales in cinema. Mitchum is an ambulance driver who becomes her family’s chauffeur and her lover. It’s a real treat to see Simmons in a bad role and thinking of the final sequence I still get shivers down my spine. I may not be a fan of Jean-Luc Godard’s films, but I have tremendous respect for him as movie critic and connoisseur, and, in 1963, he listed Angel Face as one of the ten greatest American sound movies.
Out of the Past 
Out of the Past (1947)

I had doubts whether to include this one on my list, given the fact that it always comes up when they talk about film noir (and I usually like to look elsewhere), but the truth is it counts as one of my favourites. One of the best parts of Out of the Past (directed by Jacques Tourneur) lies in the female character, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer). She has the appeal and darkness, the beauty and brutality of the authentic femme fatale. Few others, if any, have achieved this. No foolish flirtations, no sentimentality, a chilling composure. She just goes after what she wants. It’s in her blood. And we are made aware of it from the beginning, and so is Robert Mitchum. It is that early scene after Kathie and Jeff meet in the Mexican cafe, when she describes the night spot where he might feel more at home, and as she turns to walk away she tells him, “I sometimes go there”. No matter what he does from that moment on, we sense his fate has been determined.
The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946 
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The Postman Always Rings Twice was the second screen adaptation based on a novel by James M. Cain, after Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) and, after watching it, it was about the only time I didn’t want to compare two films based on the same story (which does not stand in the case of the 1946 version vs. the 1981 version). Tay Garnett’s psychological noir is a complex movie, with a beautifully constructed plot that often contains strong twists of situation. You are always kept in suspense and Sidney Wagner’s cinematography and George Bassman’s music certainly help achieve that. But what I particularly loved about this noir, besides Lana Turner’s performance (and that great character card played by having her wear almost exclusively white), was that every character seemed to have a dark side.
Ace in the Hole 
Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole is a different kind of noir, a landmark for the genre, as Billy Wilder addresses the usual subjects of noir in an unusual manner. Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a down on his luck journalist, with a past, and a reputation that doesn’t help him much in securing a new job, and whose lust to develop a sensational story stops at nothing. The film is an in depth study of human deception, avarice and social position, and Wilder chooses to focus on the frail state of humans to depict a portrait of a society that is selling everything it can, no matter what the real cost is in terms of life preservation. The role of mass media is being analyzed bare naked – in this regard, the Spanish translation of the title, El gran carnaval, says it all.

Related article: The Femme Fatale Is Wearing White
photos: 1,2: In A Lonely Place (Columbia Pictures, Santana Pictures) / 3-Rififi (Pathé Consortium Cinéma, Indusfilms, Primafilm) / 4-Shadow of A Doubt (Skirball Productions, Universal Pictures) / 5-Angel Face / 6-Out of the Past (RKO Pictures) / 7-The Postman Always Rings Twice (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) / 8-Ace in A Hole (Paramount Pictures)

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