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What do Al Pacino and Isabelle Huppert have in common? Both dominate the screen, imposing their life force on the action around them, their craft a living rebuke to the common notion that actors are like chess pieces, to be manoeuvred this way and that by the director: Pacino has his glowing, sallow death mask; Huppert her sheet metal gaze, her blood blossom mouth.
You might say that that they look “complex” – but it’s not that they are hard to read, or impenetrable, it is that their faces, repulsive and beautiful and mesmerising to others, seem to sculpt out a portion of the world all of their own. Although Huppert and Pacino work in fictional worlds, there remains something irreducible about them.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist, occupies a similar register – a register that generates powerful emotions in the observer. It’s hard not to feel momentarily fixed in the spot by her eyes, framed by a face caught between stillness and expressivity.