The first French film by Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch provocateur behind such
sneakily subversive Hollywood fare as Robocop and Basic Instinct, Elle is a work
of startling moral complexity, a constantly surprising narrative that provides
an in-depth, occasionally uncomfortable portrait of a well-do-do Paris woman
with more than a few secrets. The film begins when Michèle Leblanc, the coowner
of a successful video game company, is sexually assaulted by a masked
man in her own home. Through Michèle’s unusual response to her assault and
eventual discovery of the culprit, the viewer learns about her past and comes
to understand what has shaped her blunt, sometimes shocking personality.
Elle explores the dark, mystifying sides of the psyche, but with a light touch
and fast pace that allow Verhoeven to make the most of his characters’ comic
foibles. One only has to compare Elle’s bumbling men to its powerful heroine
to realize that this is a feminist film, one that furthers the discussion on rape
and trauma, but, most importantly, portrays women in positions of strength.
Nominated for a 2017 Academy Award for her work in Elle, Isabelle Huppert
delivers another brave, illuminating performance. As Verhoeven has stated
in interviews, one always sees what Michèle is thinking in Huppert’s eyes.
In a film that plumbs the depths of human complexity, this access to the
intricacies of the mind is nothing short of riveting.
Based on the novel Oh…
by Philippe Djian
France, Germany, 2016
Sony Pictures Classic