Directed by Paul Herhoeven. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Christian Berkel, Judith Magre, Jonas Bloquet, Alice Isaaz. 131 mins. In cinemas March 10
3/5 ISABELLE HUPPERT AMAZES IN COCKTAIL OF SEX, VIOLENCE & DARK HUMOUR Dutch director Paul Verhoeven has never shied away from being controversial, though few of his films challenge mainstream audiences like
Elle. The indomitable Isabelle Huppert stars as Michele, the divorced CEO of a video game company that revels in depicting sexual violence. Her position is a cruel irony; in the opening scene of the film, Michele is violently raped by a masked home intruder. Instead of reporting her rape to the police, Michele goes about her life
(an experience shared by 90% of rape survivors, despite many critics’ description of this reaction as “unexpected”). As she continues to be stalked and experiences misogynistic attacks at work, she embarks on a psychologically complex quest for control over the men in her life.
Verhoeven’s film, based on Philippe Djian’s novel Oh…, plays with sadomasochism, psychological warfare and thriller elements, though it all feels dominated and simplified by male gaze. Elle could be a character study, but Michele remains an impenetrable abstract, whose interactions with other characters alternately cast her as sexist tropes like the rape victim, a femme fatale, a fake geek girl (she knows little about video game technology), and a nagging mother. Combining these does not a fully-rounded female character make, though Huppert’s powerful, unwavering gaze does imbue Michele with coldly expressed strength and emotional resilience. She brings a sublime bravura to a character who never attempts to be likable.
Technically, Elle is masterful. Verhoeven’s use of dual cameras brings the audience viscerally close to his varieties of violence and Huppert’s evocative micro-expressions, and his sly eye captures the darkly absurd as well
She-ing is believing: Anne Consigny
Hey, ghoul friend: Kristen Stewart as heartsinking horror. However, his reliance on stereotypesmeanElle is not as controversial or complex as he would like to think. Though disturbing, his film is never truly shocking.