When Michelle, the CEO of a gaming software company, is attacked in her home by an unknown assailant, she refuses to let it alter her precisely ordered life. She manages crises involving family, all the while becoming engaged in a game of cat and mouse with her stalker.
ActorsStarring: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Christian Berkel, Judith Magre, Jonas Bloquet, Alice Isaaz, Vimala Pons, Raphaël Lenglet, Arthur Mazet, Lucas Prisor, Jina Djemba
Review by Andy Hayler (15 March 2017):
This seems set up to be a standard revenge thriller, but quickly it becomes apparent that there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye. The opening sequence shows (at this stage we merely hear it, through the viewpoint of a pet cat in the room at the time) a violent rape. Yet after the assailant leaves the victim Michele, played by Isabelle Huppert, is remarkably calm: she tidies up the mess and even orders a takeaway sushi. It turns out that she has a good reason not to report the assault to the police. When she starts to receive taunting texts from the attacker she begins to suspect that the attacker is someone she knows, possibly an employee at the successful video games company that she runs with her business partner Anna (played by Anna Consigny).
The film benefits from astute use of humour to lighten the tension; in particular some scenes involving Michele’s idiotic son and his girlfriend from hell are genuinely funny. There are further revelations about the confident Michele’s life, from her relationship with Anna’s husband through to her growing desire for her neighbour, the handsome but married banker and would-be pilot, Laurent (played by Laurent Lafitte). Ms Huppert is on-screen in virtually every scene, and her performance is remarkable: she is never played as a victim but rather someone completely in control of her life, even when that life takes dark turns. As the plot twists unfold the film never flags even over its two hours 10 minute length, and the slick direction pulls the audience willingly along.
This is a film that was never going to made in Hollywood – Paul Verhoeven reportedly tried and was unable to find either a backer nor a lead actress willing to take on the risky and challenging role. It is a relief that he did not manage to, since we are all able to witness a towering acting performance from Isabelle Huppert.
Review by Bart Hartgring (27 October 2016):
How would you expect a woman to deal with being brutally raped? Undoubtedly there are many feasible scenarios – some more predictable than others. The one that Elle presents probably isn’t one you would have come up with. Paul Verhoeven returns to the essence of his earliest international success with Basic Instinct (1992): provoking the audience with female sexual exploration beyond boundaries most directors wouldn’t venture. Or maybe this one is more exploitation rather than exploration. Or maybe both. Indeed, Verhoeven is a master at layering his stories – there’s always something more going on.
Michèle is the CEO of a video game company who is raped and stalked by a baclava-wearing man. She starts a quiet but determined manhunt to find and identify him, and she does. I simply shouldn’t say much more about the plot as any more interesting analysis would present key spoilers. Suffice to say that the plot does not develop as you may have expected, or hoped.
Michèle is played by Isabelle Huppert, who excels at wanting to make you not like her, yet somehow sometimes you do, even if you can’t understand her. When you dislike her she at the same time seems human and vulnerable, and then when you decide to cheer for her she does something that leaves you scratching your head again. There are many angles and interpretations to take on the movie and Huppert’s Michèle – and that is to her acting credit.
Is it an enjoyable movie? No, certainly not. Verhoeven’s layers, Michèle’s choices, and Huppert’s acting will likely leave you wondering ‘What did I just watch’? Well actually, that is exactly why it is an enjoyable movie… Darnit, Verhoeven got me.