Friday, January 12, 2018


Elle; psychological drama, France / Germany / Belgium, 2016; D: Paul Verhoeven, S: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Christian Berkel, Anne Consigny, Virginie Efira

Paris around Christmas. Michele, a middle aged woman, is raped in her house by a burglar with a mask who then runs away. She has many suspects: since she works as a boss in a video game company, many employees hate her due to stress and time constraints. Michele also has other problems: her ex-husband, Richard, is seeing another woman; her old mother announces that she is getting married only to have a stroke and die in the hospital; her son, Vincent, has a baby with Josie, but Michele suspects Josie is only with him for the money. Finally, it is revealed that her neighbor, banker Patrick, raped her because he can only reach an orgasm through rape fantasies. He helps Michele from the car after she crashed into a tree. Michele decides not to see him anymore, but he assaults her again, until Vincent kills him with a ram.

After a 10 year break, provocateur Paul Verhoeven returned in big style with this psychological dark crime drama that once again explores some uncomfortable, taboo topics about modern society: blasted by feminists and purists, but embraced by more open-mined critics, "Elle" works mostly thanks to a virtuoso performance by Isabelle Huppert who hereby decisively placed any problematic issues in the film "on the right side", creating an excellent character for which she was awarded with numerous prizes. The dark thriller elements, here presented through a daring-bizarre concept in which the main heroine, Michele, is attracted to a man (in one scene, she even masturbates in her room while observing him in the garden with binoculars) who is later revealed to be her rapist (!), but she actually finds out he can only reach an orgasm through these rapes, is understandably not for everyone, yet just like Chabrol and Hitchcock, Verhoeven also uses them for a broad picture of current times and thus gives a commentary on the 21st century society: the film is set around Christmas (!) but all the family relations are distorted or collapsing; work is not designed to be useful or helpful anymore, but just to earn money by appealing to the most primitive, hidden urges of the consumers (Michele's company designs a video game based only on violence); Michele's father was a mass murderer and thus she does not believe in any values, etc. Verhoeven's "excursion" into French cinema was appropriately recognized by critics, since the director stayed true to his naughty self who is bored with ordinary things in life, and thus scratches behind surface. Several dialogues are also well written ("Despite all our efforts and hard work, we still achieved success!"; Robert's exchange with Michele: "You cannot avoid me all night." - "Just watch me!"). The ending and resolution are somewhat weaker, lacking some overall point to circle out all these observations, yet the movie works just enough to intrigue.


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