Film Review: Elle
ELLE (2016) DIR. PAUL VERHOEVEN
This film, based on the novel Oh, by Philippe Dijan, populated with thoroughly heinous characters who routinely behave either badly and/or bizarrely. It is, on the surface, a film about a violent home invasion and rape and subsequent consequences. It is hard to watch and is replayed more times than necessary. But ultimately, it is a portrait of a complicated woman, Michèlle LeBlanc (Isabelle Huppert), who runs a successful video game business, which traffics in sexually violent figures, has a thoroughly feckless dysfunctional family and a dark history which includes a psychopathic father. There is a case to be made that she has some of the same DNA. As unappealing as all of this sounds, and is, it is a compellingly directed film which hooks you in to absurd plot devices and undeveloped characters with chilling suspense.
This would be a totally gratuitous violence fest if it were not for the way that Huppert inhabits Her character. It is now indisputable. She has never met a character or a topic too unappetizing to portray. She is one gutsy chick. On top of that she always manages to endow them with enough gravitas to make even the most fringe situations seem relevant. Michelle has no moral compass. She is a provocateur and a voyeur. She has casual sex with her best friend’s husband among other random sexual partners with whom she behaves with reckless abandon. Not to mention, when she discovers who her attacker is she continues to engage with him without any trepidation. In this case, and I risk feminist backlash here, it would not be unreasonable to say that she got off on it.
I left feeling bludgeoned by the violence but with a sense that there was something more to
the film than my first reaction. But upon further thought, I think that it is not about anything more than a deeply disturbed woman who has the magnetism to attract similarly-inclined people into her orbit and everyone gets what they deserve. If that is your cup of tea - this one’s for you.