Picture a gorilla. It's male, huge, and hairy. It turns this way and that. It rises on two legs and beats its chest; it falls on its knuckles and makes a face. What is it trying to say? To figure this out, to understand its intentions, you (a human) must focus not so much on its grunts but on its body as a whole. The beast communicates with its posture, its deep breathing, its massive muscles, its thick neck, its big and black back. Humans are not like this at all—we mostly communicate with our mouths. Our body language has been brought to the brink of extinction by verbal language. Humans do not even need to be seen to communicate. A gorilla without its body will tell us nothing.
And it is here that we see the real difference between an actor on the screen and an actor on the stage. The movie actor is much closer to the gorilla than the theater actor. The movie star must be able to communicate without words, with just his/her body. He/she is in the business of returning language to the arms, the chest, the ass. When the star of My Worst Nightmare, Isabelle Huppert, receives a call during a meeting at a gallery she runs. The look on her face, the way she rises from her desk, the quick high-heeled steps she makes to her purse on the floor, the supple way she bends down to pick it up, the shape of her back, the turn of her neck, the sway of her small hips—without a single word, we know that this sexy middle-aged woman is in love with the person (a brash and alcoholic working-class fellow named Patrick—Benoît Poelvoorde) who called her on the phone. We know that she is going to see him, we know that she is happy, we know that for her, a usually uptight art dealer, this is the beginning of something new and exciting. And yet, not once during the whole movie (which, by the way, is an entertaining French comedy) does Huppert's character ever (or fully) express these feelings with words. This is the art of a great screen actor.