Elle (18)

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - FILM -

IN SE­LECTED CIN­E­MAS ALIS­TAIR HARKNESS 5/5

Elle starts as it means to go on: un­pre­dictably. We see Is­abelle Hup­pert be­ing at­tacked and raped by a man in a ski mask. It’s bru­tal and re­lent­less, the cam­era ob­serv­ing the crime as mat­ter-of-factly as her pet cat watch­ing from the side­lines.

When the or­deal is over, Hup­pert’s Michèle doesn’t cower and cry or call the po­lice. She calmly cleans up, locks the door and takes a bath. She re­fuses to yield to ex­pected no­tions of vic­tim­hood.

It’s this re­sponse that makes Paul Ver­ho­even’s first film in a decade such a provoca­tive, brain-twist­ing propo­si­tion.

The Dutch di­rec­tor made his name with slyly satir­i­cal genre fare such as Robocop, Star­ship Troop­ers and Ba­sic Instinct.

Elle is a more grounded film, but be­cause its pro­tag­o­nist’s re­sponse to her or­deal doesn’t con­form to the nar­ra­tive beats of a movie about rape, it’s of­ten as funny as it is shock­ing. When Michèle tells her friends about the at­tack, for in­stance, she does so ca­su­ally, over din­ner, just as cham­pagne is de­liv­ered to the ta­ble. Hup­pert de­liv­ers her lines with dead­pan comic flair. Ver­ho­even main­tains this tone through­out and doesn’t give much away in terms of what he wants us to feel. It’s Hup­pert who de­serves most credit for Elle’s suc­cess as a film. In­scrutable and un­pre­dictable, her nu­anced per­for­mance trans­forms Elle into a re­mark­able char­ac­ter study of some­one un­will­ing to be de­fined by any­one or any­thing.

DIS­TURB­ING: Is­abelle Hup­pert in Paul Ver­ho­even’s Elle.

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