- Tom Dawson
- 23 July 2010
Spare existential drama achieves memorably depiction
The latest collaboration between Isabelle Huppert and director Benoit Jacquot is this spare existential drama, which begins with concert pianist and composer Anne Hidden (Huppert) discovering an infidelity committed by her partner of 15 years (Xavier Beauvois). Helped by Georges (Jean-Hughes Anglade), an old childhood friend from Brittany, Anne systematically severs all connections with her present life: she quits her work, sells her flat and destroys her possessions, and closes down her bank accounts. Carrying only a weekend bag, she travels by train through France, Germany and Switzerland, eventually reaching the Neapolitan coast. It’s there, on the sun-drenched volcanic island of Ischia, that she discovers the Villa Amalia of the title, which turns out to be an uninhabited hilltop shack.
It’s how Jacquot directs this tale of a woman taking radical measures to forge a new identity which impresses. The editing is elliptical, leaving strange gaps in the the narrative and heightening the mysteriousness of the human encounters, which are often marked by a lack of verbal communication. The impressive cinematography of Caroline Champetier contrasts the cold tones of Northern Europe with vivid Mediterranean seascapes, whilst throughout, Bruno Coulais’s powerful score adds a layer of dissonance. It’s a film which is both concrete – showing for example how Anne’s material belongings are discarded – and abstract, particularly in the way it creates the utopian space of Villa Amalia itself. Balancing emotional reticence and physical determination, Huppert memorably depicts an enigmatic character embracing self-imposed solitude.