Paul VerhoevenFrance131 minutes2015ColourFrench
Isabelle Huppert stars in the daring new film from perennial provocateur Paul Verhoeven, about a high-powered businesswoman whose brutal sexual assault elicits both erotic fantasies and dreams of revenge.
Undeterred by themes of brutality, malice, and humiliation, Paul Verhoeven tells controversial stories. His films are sensational, upsetting, and fiercely intelligent. Be forewarned that Elle may disturb — but know that you are in the hands of a master.
Elle begins in medias res: Michèle (Isabelle Huppert), the head of a successful videogame company, is being beaten and raped in her home by a masked assailant. After he leaves, Michèle cleans up, arranges to have the locks changed, and goes about her business. She doesn't call the police. Days pass. She finds herself fantasizing about the assault, aroused by the possibility of her attacker's return — and the thought of exacting bloody revenge.
As Elle unfolds, Michèle will contend with myriad challenges: a needy lover; an unambitious son and his disagreeable pregnant girlfriend; an elderly mother whose romantic affairs are an embarrassment to Michèle. Above all, there is Michèle's father, a notorious mass murderer whose latest parole hearing looms. Michèle wants nothing to do with him, but might the darkness of their shared past offer a clue to the lingering, troubling allure of her rape?
Based on Philippe Djian's acclaimed novel Oh..., Verhoeven's first French-language film may be his greatest achievement yet. It plays like an object lesson in suspense and thematic density. Not a moment is wasted, not a word or glance is without consequence. Subplots develop in tandem, only gradually revealing their subtle links with the central narrative thread. And they all converge on Michèle, one of the most powerful and fearless creations of Huppert's stunning career.