Elle (2016, France, d. Paul Verhoeven, 130 minutes)
by Noah Damron
This one of the strangest and most compelling films to come out in 2016. Directed by Paul Verhoeven, “Elle” follows, Michelle (Isabelle Huppert), the head of a successful video game company who decides to track down the unknown man who brutally assaulted her not long ago, while also dealing with other personal issues in her life.
“Elle” is a story unlike any other. Partly because we’ve never see a character quite like this. We see our heroine continuously act like the assault has had no effect on her, but in reality, we see little-by-little how it actually has taken a toll on her. We see how the story slowly unfolds as well as what Michelle has been through in her life. Why is she always angry at her mother? Why does she never go to the police? Why does she never talk to anyone about her assault? Those are just some of the questions that linger throughout the film and Verhoeven never rushes things. The pace is very meticulous and takes its time to establish who this character is and how previous events evolve within her. Much of the film rests on the shoulders of the brilliant performance by Isabelle Huppert.
Huppert is bold and fearless as Michelle. She commands the screen and everything you feel is due to her performance. You can never take your eyes off her. There were times when I smiled simply because I knew I was watching a world-class actor at their best. The Academy got it right by nominating her for Best Actress.
There are many ways to interpret why our lead acts the way she does and the screenplay, written by Daniel Burke, lets the audience decide for their own and never tells us what to think. You never know where the film is going, which is simply thrilling. By the 50 minute mark, I kept wondering where else the story could possible go.
Shot in a very dream-like fashion, we always feel like we’re watching something elegant, but constantly are shocked by how startling it can be. This film is part character study, part revenge thriller, part mystery and part comedy. Even from the director of “Basic Instinct”, “Robocop” and “Showgirls”, this is a wholly original film. The cinematography adds a unique beauty to the film, which helps the audience get through what is on the surface, a very off-putting story.
“Elle” is one of the most shocking, compelling and original films I’ve seen in years, lead by a groundbreaking performance by Isabelle Huppert. Do not be put off by the subtitles, because this is an important film that only shocks, entertains and titillates, but it’ll have you thinking days after you see it!