Review by Dustin Heller
Elle is the new psychological thriller from eclectic director Paul Verhoeven and stars Isabelle Huppert. Verhoeven has directed quite a varying range of films such as RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and even Showgirls. Huppert is sort of the French version of Meryl Streep as she has been nominated for 15 César Awards, which is sort of like the Oscars in France. The film is based on the National Literary Award winning novel Oh… by Philippe Djian. Elle premiered in competition for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and just recently won Best Foreign Language Film at the 22nd Critics’ Choice Awards. Elle is rated R for violence involving sexual assault, disturbing sexual content, some grisly images, brief graphic nudity, and language.
Michèle is a rich, successful woman who is attacked and raped in her home by a masked predator. Instead of living her life in fear, she decides to take some initiative and track down the person who did this to her. The deeper she goes in her search, the more she realizes that this might be more than just an isolated incident. What starts out as an attempt at revenge quickly turns into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse. As this game intensifies and more people become involved, the situation begins to spiral out of control.
Elle is a bit of a twisted film in that it almost justifies rape and female brutality, but at the same time is somewhat empowering to women. That probably doesn’t make much sense, but the central female character is such a strong and powerful woman that she is able to overcome and conquer some very tragic events in her life.
The story is pretty intense and does a nice job of maintaining the suspense throughout. To truly appreciate the power of this film and character, you needn’t look any further than the masterful performance by Isabelle Huppert. She is a force to be reckoned with and runs a full gamut of emotions on her way to one of the best acting performances of the year. It’s a shame that her films aren’t more accessible to American audiences.
The film is a difficult watch at times, but it is done beautifully and really keeps its edge throughout its entirety. Elle is an artsy movie and probably isn’t for everyone as it is in French with English subtitles. If you can look past that, it is a very strong film that is done exceptionally well.