A single night or event can change your life forever. This is what Paul Verhoeven’s (Robocop, Basic Instinct) latest film centers around. The concept that no matter how full and developed your life can appear to be one thing can send it into a tailspin.
Something like that requires a deft touch from the director and a sparkling script. Elle has all that in spades as well as a Oscar nomination calibre performance by its leading lady. Without estranging everyone from this continent, the film has that quintessential European feel to it. It is smart, dark, edgy, and filled with witty dialogue.
It is also a very Verhoeven film in that it combines his two main subjects – sex and violence. He loves being provocative. None of his films are without it. Elle is shocking at times but the sex and violence that happens here is never without merit. This time he has rather muted his tendency towards excess by making everything so complex and dark. It also does not follow along the usual structures of films. It is told largely out of sequence and as such, you won’t be able to predict where it is all going.
Also he uses a lead character who is not really that likeable. Here is where we jump off to the subject of Isabelle Huppert. This is not the first time she has played a woman who is interested by sex or violence. Michele’s behaviour is not of the sort which many of us will find relatable. She is hard and cold. Not someone many of us would gravitate towards. Somehow in the hands of Huppert this character becomes believable. Believe me, it is quite an accomplishment.
Michele Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert – The Piano Teacher, I Heart Hukabees) is a successful woman. She is the head of a video game company. A company that has built its reputation upon its turning out of very violent games. Her reputation is that she is devoted to work and ruthless. Knowing she is powerful, Michele seems to relish disagreeing with her younger co-workers. Punishing them time and time again with the fact that she has all the power.
In opposition to her professional life, her personal life is a bit of a mess. She is the daughter of a convicted murderer. Her mother, who has had a ton of plastic surgery, is dating a younger man. Her son is dating a woman Michele does not see as suitable. She herself is seeing a married man (Christian Berkel – Inglorious Basterds, Downfall), but is interested in her neighbour, Patrick (Laurent Lafitte – The Little Prince – 2015).
All this falls into the background when one evening she is violently assaulted and raped in her own home. Amazingly, she seems to have recovered very quickly. Now she is obsessed with finding out who violated her.
You might leave watching this film with mixed emotions. However, it will stay with you for a long time afterwards. No matter what side you come out on. It is meant to leave you thinking.
-A Taste of Empowerment: Making Elle
-Celebrating an Icon: AFIs Tribute to Isabelle Huppert