Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny
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Review by Antonia Cundy
Elle is not for the faint-hearted. Paul Verhoeven’s return to filmmaking is explosive; Golden-Globe winner Isabelle Huppert stars in the dark sexual thriller, Elle. Sexually assaulted in her own home, Michele (Huppert) is a tour de force of feminism and independence who becomes unhealthily obsessed with finding out the identity of her assailant.
Huppert’s performance is breath-taking; she enacts the walls built up around a single, successful, female CEO with disarming perfection. We, as the audience, are often tricked into believing the cold outer masquerade Michele adopts in order to persevere. The moments of insight into her humanity and weaknesses are all the more palpable because of this.
In a film so saturated with unexpected plot twists and developments, to mention anything of the story line after the opening assault would be to give away a vital element of the film. Yet it can be said that as Michele’s search for her assailant becomes more and more dark and twisted, the film does away impeccably with any knowledge of identity or insight into someone’s personality. Michele learns to trust no one around her – which is depicted in the film not through a farcical, unbelievable plot, but through an electrifyingly clever series of characterisations and relationships.
A separate plot intertwines with Michele’s; that of her son, and his emasculating girlfriend who has him wrapped around her little finger in a bid to get at his mother’s money. The youthful naivety as seen through his mother’s eyes is a welcome comic relief from the heavy substance of Michele’s narrative.
Reflecting on desire, love, violence and power struggles, Elle leaves you feeling unsettled for a long while after leaving the cinema. It is the type of film you discuss at drinks afterwards; that it is an amazing piece of film is of no question, but the debates which it opens and the reactions it generates among an audience are entirely open-ended.