Isabelle Huppert dominates Elle, the complex new thriller from RoboCop director Paul Verhoeven
The common critical cop-out on Elle, the latest wild ride from Dutch master director Paul Verhoeven starring French national treasure Isabelle Huppert, is that it’s certainly very complex. We can barely improve on that, because while the film is easy enough to follow and enjoy on first view, there are way too many themes, strands and tones to get an easy analytical line on without further study.
Huppert plays Michéle, who is brutally raped in the opening scene, but soon bathing the blood off, gently chastising her cat for not helping, ordering some restorative sushi and telling her friends, “I guess I was raped.” She investigates the crime – without wanting to get the police involved, because of dark trouble in her past that eventually becomes clear – and does so in her own unique, implacable manner. She does this while juggling a series of relationships with family, friends, colleagues and lovers, making Elle an extraordinary showcase for Huppert, one of the most effortlessly domineering talents in modern cinema.
Based on the novel Oh... by Betty Blue author Philippe Djian, Elle seamlessly winds through adversarial psychological thriller, pulp potboiler procedural drama, black comedy and modern lifestyle drama (stacked with such modish design that it will be a great time capsule of the Euro-homogenised early 21st century). It’s a study of victimhood without sentimentality, of iconic strength without forced sass, of relationships, of consent, of survival and of determinedly staking a claim over one’s own life against manipulative forces. It certainly does have a lot going on, and it’s a corker.
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