I had my favourite in this category locked for weeks before the nominations were announced. Finally, a talented, well-respected actress would win the award after multiple fruitless nominations, and for what is likely my favourite of her films, no less! I was quite prepared to say that my choice for Best Actress would be Amy Adams for her work in Arrival. Then the nominations came out, and Amy was nowhere to be found.
After my initial disappointment at this clear snub subsided, I became reinvigorated at the opportunity to choose a new favourite actress from the amazing five women that DID get nominated. Though they are all obviously talented, Isabelle Huppert’s performance stands out to me as the most nuanced and interesting of the bunch, and therefore the one I find most deserving of award recognition.
Huppert, a 63 year old actress, is nominated for her work in Elle, a French-language film from provocative director Paul Verhoeven. That sentence contains all the components for why her work in Elle will not win the top prize, despite the clear power of her performance. An actress winning an Oscar for starring in a foreign film is rare, as the language barrier adds another obstacle that is hard to overcome. This, mixed with Huppert’s age, an already difficult barrier made that much harder due to the sexual nature of the role, and a difficult subject matter all but assures the Academy will not be honouring Huppert come the 26th.
Though she likely won’t win the Oscar, it is clear why Huppert was nominated in the first place. Huppert plays Michele Leblanc, a woman who is raped by a masked figure at the start of the film, and spends the ensuing plot trying to uncover who the culprit is. The notion of rape has been used time and time again in pop culture as quick character development, a way to create a damaged female character, often in need of rescue by a male. Whether you argue that this film either plays into the typical exploitive nature of rape in film, or if you argue it subverts the trope entirely — either can be effectively argued — it is impossible to deny the rich complexity Huppert brings to this story of a woman seeking revenge. Here, Huppert shows off her ability to show multiple facets of the same character in a way that melds them to create a complex character, where a lesser actress might allow them to contradict each other. We get to see a strong, hurt, powerful, vulnerable woman, one who fights for herself but will also maintain her composure. Huppert’s performance in Elle is one of the most exciting of the year, and it would be wonderful to see her get the recognition she deserves.