Isabelle Huppert now gets praised in the kind of rapt tones once reserved for the likes of Liv Ullmann or Meryl Streep, but the Immortal Actress tag does her a disservice. It fails to register that this former frozen-faced beauty has let her hair down and reinvented herself as a femme fatale. The point isn’t that she’s a great artist, but that she’s finally having fun on screen.
In Merci Pour le Chocolat, a domestic thriller directed by the startlingly spry Claude Chabrol, Huppert gives what may be her wittiest passive-aggressive performance yet. She plays the smiling, devoted wife of a floppy- haired concert pianist (Jacques Dutronc) who treats her like very expensive wallpaper. When her turf is invaded by a seductive younger woman who happens to be a gifted pianist herself, she recognizes that there’s only one thing to do: kill the rival with kindness. Huppert has never been this cheerful, or lethal, and the movie itself is like Hitchcock’s ”Rebecca” reshot for House & Garden, with all the ghosts pulled out of the closet.