Elle

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Elle

Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven gets back to basics with a nutso 
rape-revenge script and the fearless Isabelle Huppert.

At the start of 'Elle', the final credit to appear in the darkness (over the sounds of fucking) tells us that we’re about to watch a Paul Verhoeven film. Really? Call it a delicious redundancy. 'Elle' might just be the most Verhoeveny film yet, due to its willingness to push buttons, explore transgressive territory and take constant delight in venturing where the vast majority of filmmakers would fear to tread even lightly. This is, after all, the man who gave us 'Basic Instinct' and 'Showgirls'.

Adapted by David Birke from the novel by Philippe Djian, 'Elle' has an ace up its sleeve in the form of Isabelle Huppert, who gives a fierce (and impeccably dressed) performance as Michele, a video-game–company founder living in Paris. Those midcoital moans we heard? Michele is being raped in her living room by a ski-masked assailant. Already, her life’s been hard: she’s the daughter of a notorious mass murderer. Perhaps growing up despised by the media and the public is part of why she does not respond conventionally to her attacker but begins to seek him out, in a challenging story that will surely upset a lot of people (not that Verhoeven minds).

'Elle' is really at least three films at once: First, there’s the comedy of manners involving Michele’s adult son, mother, ex-husband and their respective other halves. A dinner party plays out exquisitely, with many tiny moments to cherish, not least Michele forgetting – or bitchily pretending to forget – the name of her Liza Minnelli–esque mom’s latest boy toy. At other moments, 'Elle' plays like a sophisticated thriller, the mystery of the masked attacker shifting and reshaping itself as we share in Michele’s heightened state of cool appraisal, scanning every man onscreen to figure out whether he might be the one.

But it’s the third film, a complex psychological portrait of an unusual woman, that might be the most alluring. As it progresses, 'Elle' takes a deep dive into dangerous territory that could be viewed as toxic misogyny or a disturbing provocation. The sheer brilliance and mastery of Huppert’s controlled, multifaceted performance will help to rally support to the latter perspective. Whatever your take, it’s a movie that will inspire debate for decades to come.

By: Catherine Bray

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Release details

Rated: 18
Release date: Friday March 10 2017
Duration: 130 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Screenwriter: David Birke
Cast: Isabelle Huppert
Alice Isaaz
Christian Berkel

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Sarah J
tastemaker

I have to say, I felt sick to my stomach watching this film. I think the characters were excellent, and the film definitely had artistic traits. But the storyline was confusing and portrayed rape in a way I had genuinely never seen or could imagine. Twisted some may say? I would say it's definitely thought-provoking and I can tell it will prompt several conversations around consent, revenge, power and fetish.. but it was by no means a comfortable watch! 

Babs - Working Girl London
Tastemaker

I watched this film about 24 hours ago and I'm still thinking about it. Mainly because I'm confused. Confused...and creeped out. It's such a weird film - so weird and confusing that I can't even tell if I enjoyed it? Ask me again in a week...what I do know is that it was 100% gripping from start to finish, and Isabelle played the leading lady faultlessly. This film is definitely worth a watch - though I may just be saying that so I have someone else with whom to discuss what the bloody hell is going on!

Jamie Evans

Brilliant film from Verhoeven...since he left La La Land and returned to Europe the Dutchman has been showing how good he really is. "Black Book" was a brave film - all the dialogue in Flaams with English subtitles which added to its authenticity. Anyhow, Isabelle Huppert's enigmatic principal in this movie is matchless. A really terrific film which I enjoyed very much.