Elle (2016)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB.5

France/Germany/Belgium, 2016.  , , , , , , , , , , , .  Screenplay by , French translation by , based on the novel Oh… by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

gives one of her best performances in years in this stylish, provocative and exciting thriller by Paul Verhoeven.  She plays a wealthy video game designer who is brutally raped by a masked intruder and then insists on getting back to her normal, if stressful life:  she is not liked by her employees and her son is throwing his life away on a girlfriend that no one likes.  To make it all so much worse, her family’s dark past has resurfaced in public, and her attacker keeps sending her threatening communications.   She investigates the identity of her attacker and, upon discovering it, engages him in a battle of wills, drawing him closer and seeing how much he wants to hurt her when she takes on a dominant, aggressive stance.  The fascinating core of this story is a woman who is so determined not to be a victim that she put herself in the way of danger, even skirting a sadomasochistic pleasure in doing so, a grand and morally dubious version of worrying your injuries to prove that they no longer hurt.  Verhoeven blends all the elements that make his films so memorable (and, for many viewers, hated) better than he has in decades, including both a frank and honest depiction of cruelty with that veneer of camp that never undermines the gravity of the subject.  Huppert is bewitching in a role that actually requires her to be frequently funny despite the dark nature of the plot, her stony gaze and tight mouth being used in the most effective manner since she worked with the late Chabrol.  The twisty plot reveals juicy secrets at every turn, and does a beautiful job of avoiding condescending or comforting moralizing, instead placing us all, both participant and voyeur, into a reckless danger zone:  is it possible to enjoy a movie in which someone makes choices that you should definitely disapprove of?  Is it enough to say that it is only a movie, that it makes no pretentions at realism and should therefore not be taken as some kind of political stand on the politics of victimhood?  Verhoeven, whose view of human existence has always been hopelessly pessimistic, manages to make it all more than palatable, finishing it off with a visual sheen that is both glamorous and devastating:  he gives as much force to the recreation of Huppert’s attacks, which you genuinely feel, as he does to his commentary on the universe’s indifference to our well-being (like showing the face of a placid and indifferent cat while its mistress is being raped).  A stunning film, though not for the faint of heart and anyone who might be turned off by the graphic imagery is advised to steer clear.

Academy Award Nomination:  Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert)

Cannes Film Festival:  In Competition

European Film Award Nominations:  Best European Film; Best European Actress (Isabelle Huppert); Best European Director (Paul Verhoeven)

Golden Globe Awards:  Best Actress-Drama (Isabelle Huppert); Best Foreign Language Film

Toronto International Film Festival:  2016


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