It is always satisfying to see a supremely talented actor in role that fits their personality and abilities perfectly. Some characters just blend so seemlessly with the people portraying them that they cease to feel like characters, and feel like extensions of the actors themselves. While Isabelle Huppert frequently chooses roles that fit her well, none fits so perfectly as Babou in Marc Fitoussi’s comedy Copacabana.
Babou is the definition of a free spirit: she dresses garishly, surrounds herself with an eclectic mix of friends, has a bizarre obsession with Brazilian culture, and seems utterly incapable of holding (or even obtaining) a proper job. Though she is content with her rather unorthodox lifestyle, her adult daughter, Esméralda (played by Huppert’s real-life daughter, Lolita Chammah) is not amused by her mother’s eccentricity. In an effort to improve relations with Esméralda and prove that she is capable of being “normal,” Babou secures a job selling timeshares. While she excels as a saleswoman, she struggles to win back a daughter who has written her mother off as a lost cause.
Though the plot is relatively straightforward, the film is held up by an exceptional performance by Huppert. Little can be said about her abilities that hasn’t already been said, but Babou is truly a character that she was born to play. The strange mannerisms, the seemingly random mood changes and flights of fancy, and her enigmatic demeanour all seem to be a reflection of Huppert herself. Even though she is generally appreciated more for her dramatic work, Isabelle Huppert is brilliant as a comedic actress, as she fits so well into absurd circumstances.
It is interesting to watch Huppert act alongside her own daughter, especially since one imagines that the relationship must reflect their real-life relationship, to one degree or another. While the mother-daughter dynamic is dramatized for the sake of the narrative, and I’m sure that both Huppert and Chammah have a much more loving bond than their respective characters, it seems like Chammah probably lived with some of the same frustrations. Having a somewhat eccentric actress as a mother was probably difficult at times, and that pent-up angst really shows in the film. Though Lolita Chammah’s performance is not nearly as memorable as her mother’s, she still captures the essence of the character well, perfectly demonstrating the issues faced by the child of a misfit.
Despite the interesting characters and excellent performances, the story doesn’t quite measure up to the quality one expects from one of Huppert’s films. Copacabana is not one of her most well-known films, and this is somewhat understandable considering that, when looked at objectively, it is pretty pedestrian. Having said that, there is nothing technically wrong with the film. It is funny throughout, and entertaining despite its leisurely pace. But one can’t help but feel that something is missing, like it was the filmmaker’s intention to include more, but was forced to make cuts for one reason or another.
Nonetheless, for those who are fans of Isabelle Huppert’s body of work, or for those who simply enjoy a sardonic French comedy, Copacabana is a must-see film.
Rating: ★★★½ out of 5