"Elle" is not for the faint of heart. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, at the age of 78, has made his first film in France and it's a doozy. Isabelle Huppert stars as the strong-willed Elle, a divorced mother who co-owns with Anna (Anne Consigny) a very successful video game company in Paris. "Elle" is a violent yet thrilling depiction of a violated woman.
Elle resides in a fabulous townhouse in a quiet neighborhood in Paris. Her solitude is savagely interrupted one afternoon by a masked intruder who beats and rapes her. But Elle is seemingly unfazed --- she meets her ex-husband, Rochard (Charles Berling), along with Anna and her husband, Robert (Christian Berkel) for dinner, and calmly informs them of her assault before the champagne is poured.
Elle's life is very complicated. Her elderly mother, Irene (Judith Magre) plans to marry her much younger boyfriend, against Elle's wishes. She implores Elle to visit her father, who is imprisoned for multiple murders. His parole hearing is pending and Elle refuses to acknowledge his existence. Her son, Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) can't hold a job and his beautiful but crazy girlfriend, Josie (Alice Isaaz) is pregnant. Rochard has a new young girlfriend, Helene (Vimala Pons), whom Elle resents, but she can say nothing because she is sleeping with Robert. To help her mood, Elle decides on a whim to host a Christmas party, and invites her neighbors, Rebecca (Virginie Efra) and Patrick (Laurent Lafitte), whom she barely knows. But there is something about Patrick which intrigues her --- an assignation, perhaps?
Based on the novel "Oh..." by Philippe Djian, "Elle" is an intense study of a powerful woman and her very unusual reaction to an horrific assault. She becomes determined to learn the identity of her assailant, and we, the audience, along with Elle, begin to suspect one of her employees. The flashbacks of the rape are difficult to watch and Verhoeven is a master at orchestrating the tension.
Huppert is magnificent. Her calmness throughout is as unnerving as the crime committed against her. She's elegantly beautiful and possesses an inner strength which transcends perfectly to her character. Elle pulls no punches with the men in her life, and one gets the idea Huppert conducts herself in the same fashion.
The rest of the cast, especially Lafitte, is equally superb. There is something about French films which I find so incredibly appealing, the actors being a significant part of that attraction. They seem so much more natural than many of their Hollywood counterparts.
Lafitte is handsome, but not in an affected way. In one scene, Patrick shows up at Elle's front door to help close her shutters. They find themselves in her bedroom, and we find ourselves hoping they'll end up in bed, but Patrick flees before anything happens. There is something definitely up with that boy. C'est dommage!
"Elle" is an intriguing French thriller --- but not suitable for everyone. However if you are a fan of Huppert's, do not miss this one!
Opinion: See It Now!
For moviegoers who are not easily shocked by what they see on screen, "Elle" is "cinema délicieux", as the French might call it. This movie has a little bit of everything, much of it perverse, all of it mesmerizing. It is a fascinating foray into sado-masochism, lesbianism, adultery and brutal rape scenes. All these things neatly wrapped into a thriller that will have you trying to figure out what comes next.
At 78, director Paul Verhoeven is no shrinking violet when it comes to rough sex, violence against women and full frontal nudity. On the other hand "Elle" is a French film, with prolific French cinema star Isabelle Huppert --- looking great at 63, by the way ---in the lead role.
In prepping to make "Elle", Verhoeven ("Robocop", "Total Recall", "Basic Instinct") considered shooting in American cities like Boston or Chicago, but he figured "no American actress would ever take on such an amoral role". But Huppert was eager to play the lead in this film based on a French novel. If her character can be defined by one scene, it is the dinner she has with her ex-husband and another couple when she calmly declares she was assaulted in her home.
Despite some horrific sequences made even more jolting by the extreme use of sound, I defy anyone to sit through this and look away from the screen, even for a moment. It is that well told and acted, screenplay by David Birke based on Philippe Djian's ("Betty Blue") novel "Oh...".
This is not a movie for the masses, not by a long shot. But for cinephiles seeking something out of the ordinary, "Elle" is that, and more.
Opinion: See It Now!