STARS: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Charles Berling, Jonas Bloquet, Anne Cosigny, Virginie Efira
DIRECTOR: Paul Verhoeven
GENRE: Arthouse/Thriller/Black Comedy
What does the daughter of a notorious mass murderer do when she grows up? She becomes an entrepreneur--developing bizarre, violent, sexually aberrant video games...what else??? And from the opening scene of Elle--which smacks you right in the kisser...POW!--her life is set on a course to become its own live version of those games.
Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, Heaven's Gate, Amour) KILLS in her role as Michelle--a woman who defies labels. She has an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in her back pocket for this one; a gutty, gritty performance that's as physically demanding--she bounces off the walls a lot--as it is emotionally wrenching. She doesn't wear her emotions on her sleeve, however. No...she is the Ice Queen. But it's all in there building up like Mount St. Helens getting ready to blow. Michelle is bent on finding the identity of a man who brutally raped her, but she won't go to the police. She'll do it her way, in her own time, as she goes about her daily life.
"Elle is soooo FRENCH," my cohort Jill observed. Indeed. In French cinema you can address just about anything--murder, mayhem, perversion--and it's all done in such a breezy style that it's bound to elicit a smile.There's a line in there where someone says (to the effect of) that guilt should never stop anyone from doing just what they want to do. It's clear that director Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Robocop, Showgirls) took that to heart in making Elle. He got out of Hollywood, where this film could never and would never be made, as it pushes the envelope beyond Tinseltown standards in terms of its frank and brutal portrayal of psychopathic sexual behavior. It blurs the boundaries of film genre. It's a taut and suspenseful thriller, and just when you think that's exactly what it is, in come elements of the darkest kind of black humor. It's a romance too--in the kinkiest sort of way (without giving too much away)--that makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like a Disney movie by comparison! Elle is tapping into a world of fantasy taboo that some will find uncomfortable to watch, while others may grasp that sometimes we can develop a perverse fascination for that which we find initially most repulsive.
Elle is not for those with weak bladders, because if you trot down the hall for even a couple of minutes, you'll be left in the dust. The film moves at breakneck speed, and never takes a breather. But keeping up with its twists and turns is half the fun. The other half is watching a transcendent talent at the top of her game--63 years old (in real life) with this and that popping and flopping out here and there, still as sexy and alluring a presence as any I've seen heat up the screen in recent memory.
Delightful, decadent fun.
I always suspected Tim was a pervert. Now I know for sure! If I had to create a subtitle for Elle, it would read: "a plethora of possibilities." As a black-and-white thinker, I'm not big on movies that leave me wondering what they're about. But then, that's the raison d'etre of French filmmaking.
I'm also not big on mixing film genres. A thriller should be just that, a thriller. Much of Elle made me feel both terrified and personally violated. But when the story exhibited moments of dark humor, I wasn't laughing. (Like I said before, I'm a b&w thinker.) Still, Ms. Huppert deserves an Oscar for playing 'the most physically demanding role of the year.' Those peppy dance routines in La La Land don't hold a candle to her gyrations!
Along with everything else, I wondered about, the significance of the title. Elle? The literal translation is "she." But according to The Urban Dictionary, elle can also mean 'feminine, super pretty and sexy.' So I guess the title works. Sort of. But that's the thing about this noirish movie. It can mean a lot of things....sort of.