For the first time since 2012 Paul Verhoeven returns to the director’s chair with arguably his most twisted feature film to date.
“Elle” follows the title character who’s more commonly referred to as Michele. A CEO of a major video game development company, Michele is a wealthy and rather powerful business woman living in France.
Her life, already quite complicated, becomes shattered in the opening scene of the film, though, when she’s attacked and raped at her home. What follows is an exploration of how the character deals with such a disgusting act, how it influences her decisions and how it relates to her past.
For an example with the latter, Michele opts to not contact the local police department early in the film because of the notoriety of a family member.
“Elle” is an extraordinarily complex work of art. Verhoeven let’s the picture play out by revealing more and more of who Michele is, and while this answers some questions, it also raises more of them. As a result, “Elle” is an interesting, intriguing picture that explores multiple layers of a woman who may very well be a sociopath.
The character study the film pulls off with Michele does so by bringing to light many aspects of her life, from friendships, to how she handles the aftermath of her attack, to an affair with a co-worker and even relationships with family members.
Ultimately, the audience is able to piece together who Michele is with examples of how she acts as a victim and how she acts in a position of power. Yet Verhoeven leaves only hints for other parts of the character, fantastically opening the door for interpretation.
What “Elle” is not is a revenge story. Yes, the picture does feature Michele wanting to discover who attacked her, creating a ‘who done it’ arc, but that whole point is used more as a frame for the overall point of the film, which is an intensive gaze into this woman’s life.
Because of the film being non-contemporary, it becomes wonderfully unpredictable. Not only is it difficult to find out what a next scene will contain, it’s also unknown what a character will do at a given moment. Even though the picture has some sinister sequences, it also contains some very dark humor and satire, which works for the most part.
All of this praise about these many facets is made possible largely by one person, though, and that is Isabelle Huppert. The actress is phenomenal here, giving a performance with tremendous depth. Her facial expressions, mannerisms and even tone of voice give insight into Michele, yet never enough to predict what will happen next.
The only area where “Elle” falls short is a subplot about Michele’s son that just doesn’t work very well and isn’t all that necessary.
Is “Elle” a highly recommended movie? No, at least not in the traditional sense. Those looking for typical structure and resolutions may not be that into this. However, this is a movie that I can say is well crafted, features an amazing performance and makes way for a lot of theories and interpretation. 4.7 out of 5.