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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.

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