9 Best Movies to Watch by Isabelle Huppert

Staff & contributors

Based on the Austrian novel, The Piano Teacher is as brilliant and as disturbed as its protagonist. The film follows Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), the repressed masochist in question, and the trainwreck of a relationship that she develops with her student Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel). Their dynamic is undeniably toxic. Austrian auteur Michael Haneke frames each scene with clinical detachment, but it is absolutely brutal how the two characters try to assert control over each other, engage in sadomasochism, and repeatedly violate each other’s boundaries. Huppert’s heartrending performance fully commits to the merciless treatment Erika receives. But more tragic is the way Erika’s unusual relationship could’ve freed her, could’ve helped her process her abuse, and instead, reinforces her repression. It’s scary to make yourself vulnerable by admitting your desires, only for them to be used against you.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Anna Sigalevitch, Annie Girardot, Benoit Magimel, Cornelia Köndgen, Dieter Berner, Eva Green, Gabriele Schuchter, Georg Friedrich, Gerti Drassl, Isabelle Huppert, Karoline Zeisler, Klaus Händl, Liliana Nelska, Michael Schottenberg, Rudolf Melichar, Susanne Lothar, Udo Samel, Vivian Bartsch

Director: Michael Haneke

Rating: R

In Things to Come, life tests a philosophy professor on the very same subject she teaches. For Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) — who has two grown-up children, a husband of 25 years, and a recurring publishing contract — the future isn’t something she gives much thought, because she assumes it’ll be more of the same. When her students protest against a law to raise the pension age, this middle-aged ex-anarchist can’t bring herself to engage with their apparently far-sighted cause; unlike them, all she can think about is the present. But then a series of events overturn her life as she knew it and she finds herself, at middle age, staring at a blank slate.

This is a movie about our surprising ability to deal with disaster — the instincts that emerge when we least expect them to. What’s more, it’s about the insistence of life to keep going no matter how difficult a period you’re experiencing — something that might initially seem cruel but that is, actually, your salvation. The film’s academic characters and philosophical preoccupations never feel esoteric, because Hansen-Løve’s gentle, intelligent filmmaking puts people at its center as it explores human resilience — not through stuffy theory, but an intimate study of someone coming to terms with a freedom she never asked for.

Genre: Drama

Actor: André Marcon, Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet, Edith Scob, Edward Chapman, Elie Wajeman, Élise Lhomeau, Grégoire Montana-Haroche, Guy-Patrick Sainderichin, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Charles Clichet, Julianne Binard, Lina Benzerti, Lionel Dray, Margaretta Scott, Olivier Goinard, Rachel Arditi, Ralph Richardson, Raymond Massey, Roman Kolinka, Sarah Le Picard, Solal Forte, Yves Heck

Director: Mia Hansen-Løve, Mia Hansen-Løve, William Cameron Menzies

Rating: Not Rated, PG-13

La Cérémonie is the kind of thriller you can watch repeatedly and glean new insight from each time. Right from its first scene, there’s something puzzling about the buttoned-up Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) that narrows your focus and pulls you in. What’s remarkable is that, even after the secret Sophie's keeping that seems to explain her strangeness is revealed, our intrigue never dips. Director Claude Chabrol and his cast construct a gripping twin character study and biting social commentary around that initial hook, as Sophie finds a kindred spirit in the equally uncanny Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), who opens her eyes to the slyly patronizing way Sophie’s employers treat her.

The film’s study of class relations is always subtle, never veering into over-pronounced territory. That much is clear from the fact that, although some of Sophie’s employer’s family are quite likable, you still understand the ways they’re inextricably embroiled in the film’s quiet indictment of the power dynamics that rule this lofty mansion. More nuance comes by way of the strikingly nonchalant ways evil is depicted in La Cérémonie — just another example of the movie turning something expected (violence is foreshadowed early on) into something that remains viscerally shocking, no matter how many times you watch it.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Christophe Lemoine, David Gabison, Dominique Frot, Isabelle Huppert, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-François Perrier, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Julien Rochefort, Sandrine Bonnaire, Valentin Merlet, Virginie Ledoyen, Yves Verhoeven

Director: Claude Chabrol

Rating: NR

, 2012

Amour is about Anne and Georges, an elderly couple who face challenges in their relationship after Anne suffers a debilitating stroke. They're portrayed by Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant in what can only be described as a masterclass in acting. It's a challenging story but it's a realistic portrayal of love later in life and in the face of time. Directed by Michael Haneke, the movie was met with widespread acclaim from critics when it came out in 2012, winning the Palme d'Or as well as the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alexandre Tharaud, Carole Franck, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Ramón Agirre, Rita Blanco, William Shimell

Director: Michael Haneke

Rating: PG-13

Based on the true story of the last French woman executed by guillotine, Story of Women depicts wartime survival under the Vichy regime. While men were sent to fight in the war, women in France stayed home, in a country occupied by the Nazis, with their government collaborating with the Axis powers they were supposedly at war with. Marie-Louise Giraud is one such woman. Like her country, she is pushed to do crimes forbidden by the state, first for kindness, but eventually for comfort, but only she gets the death penalty for 27 abortions, when only a few Vichy officials have been tried for crimes against humanity, which includes the deportation of seventy thousand Jews to concentration camps. The contrast is made much more poignant with Isabelle Huppert and Claude Chabrol’s creative partnership.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Caroline Berg, Dani, Dominique Blanc, Evelyne Didi, François Cluzet, Guillaume Foutrier, Henri Attal, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Michel Noirey, Lolita Chammah, Marie Bunel, Marie Trintignant, Nils Tavernier

Director: Claude Chabrol

It's difficult to portray Cinderella stories nowadays without making them feel cliche and irrelevant, but Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris seems to have achieved the impossible: it tells a well-worn tale without losing any of its charms, and Lesley Manville is the person to thank for this surprising triumph. As the titular Mrs. Harris, Manville is so sweet and likable —thoroughly convincing in her rags-to-riches journey—that it's impossible to watch her without grinning from ear to ear. Sure, the beats are predictable, polished to a fault even, but Manville makes every scene worth it. This is a feel-good movie if ever there was one, made even more enjoyable for fans of earnest performances, beautiful dresses, and clean, straightforward storytelling.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Alba Baptista, Anna Chancellor, Barnabás Réti, Ben Addis, Bertrand Poncet, Christian McKay, Csémy Balázs, Declan Hannigan, Delroy Atkinson, Ellen Thomas, Freddie Fox, Guilaine Londez, Harry Szovik, Igor Szász, Isabelle Huppert, Jade Lopez, Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Wheeler, Lambert Wilson, Lesley Manville, Lucas Bravo, Panka Murányi, Philippe Bertin, Rose Williams, Roxane Duran, Saruul Delgerbayar, Vincent Martin, Wayne Brett, Zsolt Páll

Director: Anthony Fabian

, 2022

It’s a bold move, centering a drama around a creature as docile as a donkey, but EO pulls it off without ever leaning on the crutch of CGI. Instead, the film makes ingenious use of a hundred-year-old film technique: the Kuleshov effect. By splicing the image of the titular donkey’s placid, expressionless face against visual stimulus, the illusion of a genuine reaction is produced.

But don’t be mistaken: this is no twee Disney-esque tale of anthropomorphism. Inspired by the classic Au Hasard Balthasar, EO tracks the haphazard journey of a former circus donkey across Europe — one that is often depicted in surreal psychedelic reds instead of idyllic picture-book tones, and punctured by more horrors than joys (though we do, thankfully, get to see him munch away on some well-deserved carrot treats). EO’s docility frames him as a kind of holy innocent, making the cruelty meted out to him feel all the more like a grave violation of something sacrosanct. Seeing the world through his oft-neglected perspective also makes this a movie about humans by proxy — a fresh, empathetic approach that, even in its obvious dramatic liberties, makes us meditate on both the depth of experience that may be unfolding in our animal neighbors and our role in shaping it.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Isabelle Huppert, Kateřina Holánová, Lolita Chammah, Lorenzo Zurzolo, Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Sandra Drzymalska, Tomasz Organek, Waldemar Barwiński

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Rating: NR

This dark French comedy is set in a neglected building in a working-class neighborhood. The elevator breaks and every tenant agrees to pay to fix it, except for the person who lives on the first floor. The neighbors go through with the reparations without the first-floor tenant, on the condition he never uses the elevator. Everything is fine until an incident puts him in a wheelchair.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Gustave Kervern, Isabelle Huppert, Jules Benchetrit, Larouci Didi, Michael Pitt, Tassadit Mandi, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Valeria Bruni‑Tedeschi

Director: Samuel Benchetrit

Rating: Not Rated

, 2016

Arch-provocateur Paul Verhoeven received widespread acclaim for his assured and darkly funny adaptation of Philippe Dijan’s award-winning novel, his first film in the French language. 

It’s a controversial revenge thriller about a domineering businesswoman who is raped in her home by a masked man. Refusing to let the attack affect her life, she refuses to report the incident and tracks down the assailant herself.

Verhoeven directs the material with confidence and a troubling lightness of touch, while fearless Isabelle Huppert gives one of the best performances of her long and illustrious career. Some people found Elle empowering while others felt it perpetuated misogynistic attitudes. Either way, it makes for a passionate post-viewing discussion.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alice Isaaz, Anne Consigny, Anne Loiret, Arthur Mazet, Caroline Breton, Charles Berling, Christian Berkel, David Léotard, Eric Savin, Fleur Geffrier, François Nambot, Hugo Conzelmann, Hugues Martel, Isabelle Huppert, Jean Douchet, Jean-Noël Martin, Jean-Yves Freyburger, Jina Djemba, Jonas Bloquet, Judith Magre, Laurent Lafitte, Laurent Orry, Loïc Legendre, Lucas Prisor, Marie Berto, Nicolas Beaucaire, Nicolas Ullmann, Oury Milshtein, Raphaël Kahn, Raphaël Lenglet, Stéphane Bak, Vimala Pons, Virginie Efira, Zohar Wexler

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Rating: R