By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review is of Paul Verhoeven’s latest though-provoking piece, Elle. Elle is also his latest Academy Award nominated movie too.
Directed by Paul and adapted for the screen by David Birke; Elle stars the tremendous French actress Isabelle Huppert in the leading lady role.
Elle is a piece of cinema that’s born to be debated, so here’s my two cents…
Elle follows Michele Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) through what seems to be a mid-life crisis, but for a whole host of reasons. She’s an extremely successful business woman whose profession as a video game designer has led her to be wealthy and live in a nice, posh house; but everything isn’t so cheerful. She has a troubled past when at the age of 10, her father went on a killing rampage around their neighbourhood. Michele is judged by the public for her father’s crimes as she is tarnished with the same brush.
On top of this, and the most important part of the narrative, Michele is horrifically raped at the beginning of the film. The masked intruder escapes, and she goes on like nothing happened. She continues her affair with her best friend’s husband, the video games she is working on is overdue and her son is stuck in a vicious relationship with his pregnant fiancé. Then, when a cruel and invasive video surfaces at the office, Michele is convinced that her rapist is actually someone she works with. But when the attacker breaks into her home again, Michele's life takes an even darker and surprising turn.
As you can see from the rundown above, this is a very difficult watch. Verhoeven is known for pushing the boundaries and he does so again with Elle. The Dutch filmmaker has spent time in Hollywood making sexualised and sensational films like Basic Instinct but he has added an extra layer here with Elle. He ventures slightly deeper, trying to expose the hypocrisy with representations being flipped upside down. For example, a nearby house is decorated with a huge Christmas Nativity scene which actually covers up something far sinister. Paul’s work in Elle is more ‘thoughtful’, and therefore provides the audience with a lot more to grasp and digest; even if it is still hard on the eyes.
A lot of the credit for this film should be laid at Huppert’s feet. She delivers an elegant and icy performance as Michele from start to finish. She has two sides to her, a cracked and fearful persona when behind closed doors but a massive front when external. She’s the main reason behind the film’s success because in layman’s terms, on the surface, Elle is quite a basic story filled with difficult scenes of sex and violence.
Overall, Huppert comes out on top with the most praise for Elle. I know Paul offered the role to many Hollywood stars including Charlize Theron and Emma Stone but no one would dare take it. Step up Isabelle and due to her fantastic talent, she was rewarded with an Oscar-nomination.
Whilst Elle is undeniably powerful, and pins you in your seat for the majority; you can see the finale coming a mile off. You wait 130 minutes to have an ending revealed that’s hardly a big mystery. The climax also ends a little rushed and way too neatly for such a dark movie. However, the reason I rate this film so highly is for the many thoughts you take away with you. This film will divide people and certainly make you debate cinema for its positives and negatives – and that’s why I love what I do.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4 Stars
Elle screened at the Phoenix cinema in Leicester this week – certificate 18