Dutch director Paul Verhoeven has been both praised and ridiculed in his long and varied career. Most of the ridicule is saved for 1995s Showgirls, often labelled as one of the worst films ever made. Despite this, Verhoeven has been praised for much of his other directing work, which includes RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Black Book. Verhoeven is back to his best with Elle.
Isabelle Huppert leads the film as Michèle, the assertive CEO of a video games company, who is raped in her home by a masked intruder. She promptly cleans up and keeps the ordeal a secret from her visiting son. In the continuation of her day-to-day life, Michèle resolves to find her attacker and deal with the rapist without informing the police, or letting it change her lifestyle.
The film opens with the rape taking place, as her cat stares blankly at the sight. Every man Michèle knows is a suspect, and her slight glances and micro-expressions explore her wondering and desire to find the culprit, in the style of a ‘whodunit’ film. Nothing is as black-as-white as it appears, which Michèle knows only too well. The rape is only the beginning of a tangled story, which is set to unravel across 130 minutes on screen.
Huppert was rightly praised for her performance in the film, and won the César and Golden Globe awards for Best Actress. Huppert was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, but lost out to Emma Stone for La La Land.
Despite the rape being the focal point of the story, Elle has more to it than just Michèle dealing with her ordeal; we also see the relationship with her friend and co-worker Anna, her employees who either love or loather her, her ex-husband and his younger girlfriend, her son and his pregnant girlfriend, her parents, her neighbours and her lover.
With such a large supporting cast, your attention is brought to the many different scenarios and relationship that Michèle has with these people, as they emerge and alter throughout the story. Even as answers begin to unravel, there is no easy resolve, and many surprises are still in store until the very end of the film. The audience are led through a maze of secrets and desire, not knowing where or how it is going to turn at any moment.
The supporting cast rightly deserve high praise for their performances also; a pivotal scene which brings these characters together for a dinner party displays this acting talent on screen. However, no one has a performance which outshines Huppert.
Elle has been described by some as a comedy, but the humour in the film is kept to a minimum. There are a few laughs, but there is no doubt that Elle is an intriguing thriller, held together by an amazing performance from Huppert. I only wish that we could go back to February 2017 and present Huppert with the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Elle is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray now.
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