Isabelle Huppert is music, solitude and wide-open to experience in Benoit Jacquot’s adaptation of Pascal Quignard’s ‘All the Mornings of the World.’ Huppert plays Ann, an accomplished pianist and composer who lives inside her melodies and rhythms, more than the ostensibly ‘real’ world of objects, space and time.
Seeing her husband kiss another woman is the catalyst that propels Ann to change her life to full effect: she leaves her husband, sells her apartment and pianos, and burns her compositions and recordings. Ann is now a blank stave, determined in her pursuit to be alone. Only confiding her plans to gentle, life-long friend Georges (Jean-Hugues Anglade), Ann heads off to a remote island in southern Europe. All she has is the bag in her hand and the thoughts in her head.
There, Ann rents the simple ‘Villa Amelia’ with breathtaking views of the ocean. It would be easy to write now that ‘Ann starts a new life.’ She doesn’t; and herein rests the film’s intelligence, tri-powered by Quignard’s narrative, Benoit’s vision and Huppert’s interpretation. Instead, Huppert starts a ‘new existence’, and is in total control of her (almost) empty vessel, unencumbered by objects and ambition.
Whilst at ‘Villa Amelia’ Ann receives pleasure by drifting, like a small boat, on the ocean. There are beautiful shots of Ann floating on her back, the sun burning down on her still and silent face. One afternoon, she allows the ocean to take her out dangerously far, and is rescued by a young Italian woman. The two are attracted to each other and begin an intimate connection. There are no plans in this relationship. It just exists, and that is how Ann wants it.
Presently, Georges turns up. His serenity and vulnerability opens up Ann. He is the mellow French horn to Huppert’s 1st violin. There is a peaceful equality between them, which eventually serves to gently guide Ann back to her old environment in France, where her mother is dying and new music awaits.
Benoit directs with a simple vision, always faithful to Huppert’s lead. This is Huppert’s film: she is the composer of her own narrative, playing Ann with characteristic poise and intensity.
In essence Villa Amalia is a study of a musician’s mind. The villa represents Ann’s ‘musical elsewhere’ a place where she exists solely in her creative energy. It’s a subtle delineation, one shown through fingers tapping a rhythm on a table, the occasional humming a small tune, and sitting in silence. They form the shape of music, and are Ann’s grammar and vocabulary.
When Ann’s eyes are fixed on the place where the sky meets the ocean, and she observes the birds moving in the sky, we wholly believe she is reading notes on the horizontal stave. Huppert’s performance takes us with magnificence to a place of pleasurable distraction and quiet meditation, just like a successful piece of music.
Director: Benoit Jacquot (2009)