Posted by: ckckred | December 21, 2016

Elle

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Throughout his career, Paul Verhoeven has sought to push the limits between comedy and violence. The filmmaker legendarily blended the two themes together for Total Recall and RoboCop, both of which subverted ultra gore in the sci-fi genre to shock audiences into laughs. Although Elle, Verhoeven’s latest feature, is set within modern times instead of the dystopian future worlds the filmmaker is renown for, it is no less provocative, opening with its protagonist brutally raped in her apartment as a household cat idly watches by. It’s a scene of absolute terror punctuated by the casualness of the assault, a recurring trait within Elle.

The victim, Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert), is a wealthy middle aged Parisian and the head of a sizeable video game company. Michèle shakes off her assault and simultaneously attempts to manage the release of the group’s newest game while trying to coordinate her social life, facing a domineering mother (Judith Magre) infatuated with a gigolo less than half her age, her loserish son (Jonas Bloquet) who is unable to realize the lecherous nature of his pregnant girlfriend, and her ex-husband (Charles Berling) constantly hassling her while he is dating a young yoga teacher. Meanwhile, Michèle also embarks on an affair with Robert (Christian Berkel), the husband of her best friend Anna (Anne Consigny), while slowly obsessing over her neighbor Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) and his mysterious background.

David Birke’s screenplay, originally written in English before Verhoeven moved the production to France, certainly seems more evocative of Hollywood screwballs than typical sexual assault thrillers. Yet despite the controversial nature of its subject matter, Verhoeven does not utilize rape for cheap shocks or gags. Rather, Elle is about its eponymous character’s attempt at maintaining a normal life after assault. Verhoeven’s stabs at dark humor don’t at all demean the film’s content or feel imbalanced next to the onscreen brutality but rather indicate the absurdity of modern life. It’s a testament to the filmmaker’s skill to pull off walk so perfectly over such a narrow rope, and Verhoeven deserves much praise for his direction.

Still, Huppert warrants the most commendation in Elle. Although Verhoeven pitched the character with Nicole Kidman in mind, Huppert fits the role perfectly. While Michèle’s sexual abuse may arouse memories of Erika in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, Elle is a more lively and colorful character, punctuated by Huppert’s excellent comic timing. It’s a new turn for the veteran actress and arguably one of her best performances yet.

Some viewers may be caught off guard with Verhoeven and Huppert’s new direction yet Elle is a thoroughly compelling black comedy that is equally sidesplitting and frightening. Although not for all tastes, Elle is one of the most urgent, captivating films I’ve seen in a long time.

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Responses

  1. Dude, awesome analysis!!! I just watched this, and now I want to watch it again with what you have said in mind. Huppert just kills it doesn’t she? I think Kidman would have been awful IMO, never liked her much, and I’m an Aussie! Only film with her in it that I like is of course Eyes Wide Shut, and I didn’t think she was all that great in that either

    As for Verhoeven, yeah, talk about a new direction huh! Certainly wasn’t expecting anything like this, and its definitely due for a re-watch I think, even though I only saw it a week or so ago

    • It’s been two weeks since I’ve seen this and I already want to see it again. Huppert really was amazing as Elle, wasn’t she. She’s the best actress working today in my opinion.

      Yeah, I couldn’t really see this working as well with Kidman (although I absolutely love Eyes Wide Shut and do think she was great in that). I know Verhoeven also considered Julianne Moore and think she would be terrific as Elle.

      • Moore would have been great I agree, but Huppert just nails it. Defininitely need to see it again, my memory is so bad I need to write about films right after I’ve seen them, or I forget a ton of stuff. Such a bad memory does have its advantages though, the re-watch will kinda feel like a new movie! 😉

        Kidman had great chemistry with Cruise, which was obvious I guess, but I don’t really remember much more than that, apart from the flirting near the start, which was really well done but I have a feeling that was Stan the man pushing her. She does deliver her lines well in that scene

      • I know what you mean, I often have difficulty writing up some reviews. Hopefully I’ll get my post about La La Land soon.

        Admittedly, Kidman doesn’t have too big of a role in Eyes Wide Shut, but she was very good in the movie (which I would also credit to Kubrick). Off the top of my head though I can’t think of another movie I’ve even seen with her in it. Moore though is one of my favorite actresses and I would have loved to have seen what she would have done with Elle.

      • I’d love to hear your thoughts on La La Land! I don’t know whether to bother, I hate it even when cartoons like Simpsons have songs and stuff, I can’t imagine an entire movie like that!!! But I liked Whiplash so much….. and we share similar tastes in music too. Hope to see that post up soon mate

      • Spoiler alert: I loved it. I’m not even a musical person: my favorite two movies of the genre are South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and Fiddler on the Roof (both of which surprisingly don’t go well with each other). But I can’t imagine anyone going out of La La Land without a smile, that movie was a ton of fun.

        I’m still working on my list for the best music of 2016. As awful of a year it was generally, 2016 had a lot of good music, and there’s already a million great new tours announced for 2017. That’s at least one good thing to look forward to in the future.

      • Yeah, fuck 2016.

        The South Park movie was a musical? I guess its been so long I can’t remember much of it. I think I’ll check out La La Land if you dug it. It opens here in a week.

        Looking forward to your music of 2016 post! I’m always a bit (well, a LOT) behind new music, but I’m betting Nick Cave’s latest will be there, as well as the new Melvins album. The new Meshuggah album is great too, though I guess it is more of the same

      • Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The new Meshuggah album was awesome; I saw them live for the first time a couple of months ago and they were amazing. 2016 was so good with music that I’m not even sure if it will make my list.

      • Looking forward to the list! I’m sure I’ll find some goodies there. I am really liking the new A tribe called quest’s album, apparently one of their members died this year too.

        Man, seriously, FUCK 2016!!

  2. I want to see this so bad, but unfortunately (and once again) it hasn’t opened in my area. So frustrating.

    • Yeah, I think Elle is still only playing in New York or LA. I actually caught a manatee of this on a Saturday and the theater was still completely packed. Regardless, the movie was excellent and I think you’ll love it.

  3. Looking forward to this one, sounds excellent. I think with this, Things To Come, Louder Than Bombs (albeit a supporting role) and Valley Of Love Huppert has had a really good 2016. All the best for the festive period dude!

    • Still need to see all of Huppert’s other 2016 movies but Elle only suggests that she’s one of, if not the best actress working today. I know it’s probably a long shot, but I hope she wins the Oscar this year.

      • I agree – one of the best around, if not the best. I can’t remember ever seeing her turn in an average performance. I recommend Things To Come – she is superb in that.

  4. Insightful review. I kind of see how Nicole Kidman would have fitted the lead role, and that maybe because after seeing her in “Rabbit Hole”, I am sure she will be absolutely amazing in any role where some traumatic personal event occurred and the aftermath shown.

    • Honestly, other than Eyes Wide Shut, I can’t think of any other movie Kidman has really impressed me in. I haven’t seen Rabbit Hole (will have to get on that), but I can’t imagine anyone playing Elle better than Huppert. A truly terrific performance.

      • Yes, I have no doubts that Huppert here is perfectly cast. I also think now that you will like Rabbit Hole. It is a depressing and an uplifting movie at the same time.

  5. Very interesting and well written review. It looks like a pretty provocative film from a director who hasn’t ever shied away from that or an actress that has always been up for a challenge.

    • Thanks man, Elle is a film to see for sure. If you like Verhoeven or Huppert’s work in the past, you’ll love this.

      • You e sold it to me.


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