Elle (18) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Paul Verhoeven, US, 2016. 130 mins.

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny

If it wasn’t for the stupendous performance by Isabelle Huppert, this would be a somewhat distasteful take on a rape and its aftermath. But Huppert interprets the character so that, although you have serious doubts about the film itself, you certainly can’t fault Huppert.

We first meet Michele (Huppert) in mid-rape. We see the balaclava-clad rapist and watch as he leaves and she locks the door and clears up the broken crockery. We observe as she later takes a bath and note the blood amidst the bath foam. Michele doesn’t report the rape but continues with her job as CEO of a company specialising in highly violent and erotic video games. She refuses to go the police – we later learn the reason she is anti-police: her father’s arrest for a horrendous list of murders in which the young Michele was involved as a potential witness.

Once the male protagonist is exposed, Paul Verhoeven, the director, moves to the darker side of the movie. Huppert’s character doesn’t just take simple revenge as the audience is led to expect, but delves into her own sexual impulses. What starts as a kind of thriller develops into something darker and more perverse. In the mixture is Michele’s affair with her best friend’s husband and her relationship with her ex-husband and her elderly mother – who pursues her own sexual fantasies – and with her wayward, difficult-to-handle son.

Verhoeven has based his film on Philippe Dijian’s novel ‘Oh’ from which David Birke has written a well-crafted screenplay. Verhoeven is well served by composer Anne Dudley’s evocative score. I didn’t enjoy Verhoeven’s film Showgirls, and have some of the same worries with this film. The movie has been described as a fantasy take on one woman’s reaction to rape. If so it is a male’s fantasy. However, there is nothing to fault Isabelle Huppert’s performance. At times, without dialogue, we look into Huppert’s face and see there her thoughts about what is happening in her life and how to deal with it. A superb exhibition of first-class acting and one which makes the film a must-see.

Review by Carlie Newman