Performative Opacity

A conversation about stardom and screen performance in the work of Isabelle Huppert


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Performance

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Departments of Cinema & Media Studies and Francophone, Italian, & Germanic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania

Opens to public





4017 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought and the Departments of Cinema & Media Studies and Francophone, Italian, & Germanic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania are pleased to announce Performative Opacity, a public conversation with scholars Ian Fleishman and Iggy Cortez, introduced by Meta Mazaj, about stardom and screen performance in the work of Isabelle Huppert. The program, free and open to the public, will take place at Slought on Monday, November 13, 2023 from 6-8pm.

With a corpus of well over a hundred films, Huppert is a singular French actor who offers a unique testing ground for current approaches in film studies and affect studies. Attention to Huppert's performances can reframe recent discussions on the social and cultural dimensions of emotion through a compelling paradox. Her roles tend to express grandiose and overwhelming conditions central to debates in the humanities—negativity, dispossession, trauma—but through elusive or resistant forms of expression: what J. Hoberman once called her "genius to distinguish varieties of blankness."

In their recent volume, Performative Opacity in the Work of Isabelle Huppert (2023), editors Ian Fleishman and Iggy Cortez, together with a variety of scholarly contributors, survey Huppert's corporeal bearing, her repertoire of gestural and emotional expressions, the affective attributes and orientations she signifies – they also take her work as an invitation for sustained reflection on the aesthetic, political and even philosophical questions it raises. Her affective disposition towards abject, aberrant, or discordant characters approaches the darker recesses of the psyche. Depravity, dispossession and trauma come to light in the microeconomy of a grimace, through subtle vocal modulations, and in the stillness of expressions that, when held in a long-take close-up, register almost imperceptible psychic movements and inflections.

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Ian Fleishman is the inaugural Chair of the new Department of Cinema & Media Studies and an Associate Professor in the Department of Francophone, Italian & Germanic Studies. He is also affiliated with the Programs in Gender, Sexuality & Women's Studies, Comparative Literature & Theory and the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities. He has published widely on subjects ranging from the Baroque to contemporary cinema and moving-image pornography.

Iggy Cortez is Assistant Professor of Film & Media at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a scholar of world cinema and contemporary art whose research and teaching are broadly concerned with diasporic thought and visual culture; racialization in relation to labour and technology; the visual and sensory culture of digital media; debates on form and aesthetics across theories of anti-colonialism and race; and questions of sexuality, cinematic performance, and embodiment.

"I have an extremely specific memory of [my childhood]. I didn't have a face. For me, my face was blank. There was an outline and in the middle something blurry. A completely blank white face, completely pale. It wasn't a source of an anxiety or a lack. I was a blank page. My face is a tool for transmission more than a precise projection. And that lets me have anything I want pass across it. When I see actresses with faces much more defined than my own, I see that this can be cumbersome. I'm not burdened by myself."

-- Isabelle Huppert, in conversation with François Weyergans