At this stage of repeatedly demonstrating her brilliance, it would be more of a novelty to get a trite performance from Isabelle Huppert than an astounding one. But Isabelle doesn’t do trite. As Eva, a prostitute who becomes the muse of a fraudulent writer, (Gaspard Ulliel) the actress is stupendous: unreadable when she wants to be, while occasionally allowing a select few to peruse carefully selected excerpts, which might be partially fictional anyway.
Bertrand (Ulliel) is a care worker, charged with looking after an elderly, lecherous, and profoundly lonely writer, when a heart attack of happenstance allows Bertrand to steal a new play from the writer’s desk. Years later, he has passed it off as his own and become a shining (and artfully dishevelled) literary star. The pressure for new script is mounting to the point of being excruciating since he needs to follow up a work that wasn’t his own to begin with. Retreating to the chalet owned by his fiancée’s wealthy family, he encounters Eva (Huppert) and becomes intrigued (and aroused), beginning a new play that is essentially a straightforward transcript of their conversations.
Though the overall effect is ever so slightly muddled, director Benoît Jacquot’s cerebral film is a complex character piece. Characters move in and out of focus, with many exchanges delivered in a steadfast close up, mirroring the false intimacy peddled by Eva. As Benoit, Ulliel is a brilliant cad. He’s on the verge of prostituting himself when his prospective client dies of a heart attack. His exchanges with both his fiancée and Eva reveal someone who appreciates companionship, but who cannot achieve true intimacy without toxicity. The scenes between Ulliel and Huppert are sneaky and sensual – two people who have acquired a certain amount of dishonesty in their lives and presumably plan to keep it that way.
The film displays clear motifs that would ordinarily be associated with a thriller, but these don’t quite culminate in the level of thrill that seemed to be brewing. These quibbles are distracting, though minor. Eva yet again shows Huppert working at the height of her powers.
Eva does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Eva here: