Quick Hit: A choreographed ending can’t spoil a performance by Isabelle Huppert, in one of the strangest movies I’ve watched in a while.
There are a lot of movies out there whose subject matter I don’t entirely agree with. I try my hardest to separate my thoughts on subject matter in regards to film, instead focusing on performance and overall effectiveness of story, as well as technical elements. This film absolutely fits into this category. It’s essentially a tale of sadomasochism, coupled with a huge mess of characters, all wrapped up in an erotic thriller bow.
If that sounds odd, you’re right. The movie opens with the main character Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) being attacked and raped. There’s no lead into this scene; it just happens, and graphically. After that, instead of doing what everyone watching would expect, she just… goes on with her life. She’s a successful video game business owner, and we’re quickly berated with red herrings. Is it the co-worker who she disagrees with? Was it the co-worker who loves her? Though it’s quite easy to figure it out if you pay attention, director Paul Verhoeven and writer David Birke are masterful at crafting characters to make you forget what you’re seeing and what you know.
That being said, most of these characters are despicable, even (and perhaps especially) Michèle herself. That’s because there is so much terrible going on behind the scenes of Elle. There’s the fact that there is a husband cheating (multiple really), there is the whole attitude of the rape in the movie, and there is the cutthroat way that Michèle’s son and daughter-in-law (maybe) are presented. It’s just a ruthless way to show people’s family, but Huppert consistently carries the movie, giving us a character whose raw humor makes it worth watching.
There’s also a lot of crafted tension here, even though you feel what’s going to occur (outside of one instance inside a hospital, very little else in the movie seems surprising). That’s a compliment to both David Birke and Huppert, because without the witty, snappy dialogue, there really wouldn’t be this crafted tension. There’s also so much darkness surrounding the film, both in the way it is shot and the subject matter. Overall, there’s quite a bit that lends itself to your eye – the way that the shadows play across Michèle’s house, the way that her office has both light and dark sides (much like Michèle).
Overall, I can’t say that I recommend this movie to everyone, because there is just so much in it that is incredibly uncomfortable. But, if you can detach yourself from what you’re watching, you’ll inevitably get caught up in the toss and twist of the film. I’m giving Elle a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"