Raucous, outrageous and more than a little bit preposterous, Paul Verhoeven’s provocative “rape comedy” Elle will ruffle feathers for its apparently callous use of rape as a narrative device – but, largely thanks to Isabelle Huppert’s superlative central turn and a boldly unhinged script, there’s a lot more to it than that.
Michèle (Huppert) doesn’t let the assault break or define her; instead, she doubles down on her take-no-shit attitude and gallows humour and emerges an utterly compelling character for it; Huppert imbues this unapologetically feminist role with a power and ferocity that few other living actresses could match.
The freedom Michèle is granted as she systematically extricates herself from societal standards offers us some scandalously dark – yet wickedly hilarious – conversational set pieces. Comfortable bourgeois lives are torn asunder in shocking ways, yet the ways in which Michèle adapts to these existential lurches are most shocking of all. The people in Michèle’s life have their own goals and motivations which they attempt to achieve in weak-willed, often passive-aggressive ways – in contrast, Michèle’s long-dormant but newly revived liberation from social norms is a giddy joy to behold. She doesn’t give in to victimhood (though would be perfectly justified in doing so): she eats it alive.
A tonal chameleon, Elle‘s genre barometer pings around effortlessly, with hilarious and challenging results experimenting with disturbing thriller, domestic comedy, and everything in between. Elle is likely the most twisted piece of provocation yet from a director whose career is built on them.
Ridiculous, dark as hell, and more fun that you could possibly imagine, Elle must be seen to be believed. However, as wryly self-aware as Elle is, its controversial handling of trauma will not be to all tastes. Those not turned off by its insensitivity will have a ball.
CAST: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Cosigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Jonas Bloquet
DIRECTOR: Paul Verhoeven
WRITERS: David Birke (screenplay), Philippe Djian (novel)
SYNOPSIS: After being attacked in her home, ruthless businesswoman Michèle determines to track down her unknown assailant.