We haven’t really seen director Paul Verhoeven since 2006’s excellent Black Book and it’s a welcome return that comes with the colossal bonus of Isabelle Huppert in an intense, dark humoured and occasionally surreal role as Michele, the exceptional focus of this unique French drama-thriller, in Elle.
Huppert’s Michele is a wealthy businesswoman who co-owns a video game company and is clearly ruthless in not only her day-to-day decisions at work, but also at home, with her family and with the insular, maladjusted world she’s built around her.
After the film opens with the sounds of an attack in her house, in which we see she’s left on the floor after being raped, at this point we don’t know much about how it all happened or if she reported it to the Police and, in fact, we’re only left with the assumption she’s been attacked in her own home and then decides to internalise it with denial. Elle isn’t your normal drama though and the reason why I lean towards a somewhat vague understanding to begin with is because the film is setup in this manner.
There are moments when we’re not always convinced what situations have occurred or if it’s entirely how something horrific happened. There’s a point where Michele visualises smashing in the head of her attacker but instead of being shocked by her own thoughts, she ends with a wry smile of opportunity. Whether this continues her denial is unknown in the early stages but as the mysterious and disturbingly dark film progresses, it’s also revealed she’s not entirely sure of her own character.
Elle glides in and around various genres, which includes a drama-comedy-thriller connection throughout, but it’s also dreamlike and utterly captivating at the same time. Towards the latter third, we’re immersed in a beautiful, baffling chain of circumstances, with dysfunctional being an understatement, but it really, really works as the loop of colleagues, friends, lovers, ex-lovers, and estranged parents all form a narrative circle that will lead up to events that were maybe always coming in Michele’s life.
Michele is not too dissimilar in disconnection to Sandra Huller’s Ines in Toni Erdmann but Elle veers away from the comedy element because we end up witnessing an obscure observation on the breakdown of relationships and the absurdity of where we end up existing in our lives. It’s also a study of the self, and what happens when something tragic happens in the past, alongside the unerring nature of stubbornness within every personality.
Michele’s persona isn’t one you’d necessarily want in your everyday life, unless you love a certain level of relentless intensity but, quite equally, she’s definitely a compelling, excitingly powerful character as well. With an absolutely stunning performance from Isabelle Huppert all the way through, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is a film you’ll want to deliberate for a while and definitely recommend to friends who relish an original thriller that has an idiosyncratic edge to embrace.
Elle is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and on digital download – Order here: http://amzn.to/2tINM5b