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France 2016
Directed by
Paul Verhoeven
130 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars


Synopsis: Elle (Isabelle Huppert) is a successful businesswoman. When an intruder rapes her she doesn’t call the police and acts as if nothing happened. When he attacks again, she begins a game of cat-and-mouse with him.

Elle is a very odd film. By all rights, it shouldn’t work. There are too many jarring elements to it. But rather than break apart, the disparate elements slowly draw together to create an complex portrait of a woman and her relationships with others. It’s hard to imagine it being halfway as successful without the casting of Huppert, who has made a career out of playing disturbed and/or disturbing women full of contradictions. But credit must also go to both David Birke who adapted the novel by Philippe Djian on which this film is based, and Paul Verhoeven, the director. Now, there’s a name you can associate with sly and biting satire, but not necessarily complex characters. And yet, here we are, with a darkly comedic drama about a woman who never fails to surprise even when you think you've arrived at her limit..

There are so many things going on in Elle's life. She’s the daughter of an infamous mass murderer, she’s having an affair with her best friend’s husband, she’s trying to break up her son’s relationship with a girl she disapproves of, and she’s trying to ship a video game despite fighting with the designer. And unlike most films, it’s a real video game (due for release next year) that is featured. And on top of all this, she’s hunting down her rapist/stalker. As the film progresses, you’ll find yourself tempted to consider the possibility that she’s as much of a psychopath as her father, and yet that’s just another game the film is playing with you.

Elle is one of the most fascinating characters to grace the screen in quite some time. And the film is a one-of-a-kind, and you should go and see it as soon as possible. Film-making like this is a rare treat, making the near impossible seem effortless. I still can’t understand how they pulled it off without falling into self-parody (as happened with Showgirls (1995) a film Verhoeven embarked upon with serious intent but that went horribly wrong). Elle is an amazing work of cinema by masters of their craft.




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