Thursday, February 9, 2017

Elle

Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte,
Anna Consigny, Jonas Bloquet


Dutch born director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Basic Instinct, Total Recall) presents a revenge dark comedy (in French with English subtitles) starring French actress Isabelle Huppert. Her performance as Michele Leblanc, a successful business owner who refuses to be a victim (in every sense of the word) after she is violently raped by a masked intruder in her own home is very powerful.

The first few minutes of the film is pitch black with grunts and groans. Then it shocks our senses as we are shown the brutality of the assault which is witnessed by Michele's black cat. Then the attacker leaves, she picks herself up, cleans the broken shards of glass, takes a long shower and simply goes to bed. The next day she goes to her video gaming company like nothing happened.

She only 'opens' up during an intimate dinner with her close friends. Her friends are shocked but they are more stunned that Michele adopts a stoic, nonchalant demeanor, being quite dismissive about the entire disturbing incident.

Michele is surrounded by an odd mixture of colorful people like her good for nothing son, his controlling pregnant girlfriend, her theatrical mother, her small group of close friends and her business associates. Although she barely talks about the incident, it dangles over her head like a little cloud that refuses to fade away. She arms herself with a gun, goes to bed with a hammer under her pillow. A certain horrific and traumatic chapter in her childhood also resurfaces from the deepest and darkest folds of her past as if she didn't have enough on her very full plate. 

The identity of her attacker is revealed well before the gripping finale. The tone of the film then takes on a cat and mouse game between them handled with dark humor, dangerous flirtation and defiant subjection. That it ends with a shocking yet triumphant twist clearly justifies everything that elle (she) stands for. 

Kudos to Isabelle Huppert for accepting this daring and risque role. Director Paul Verhoeven remarked in one interview "No American actress would take on such an amoral movie."  She is one of France's greatest actresses playing women of a certain age who are not afraid to take risks and does it so well. Her personification of Michele as this strong woman who empowers herself with stoicism, wit and a wicked sense of humor to get through her life's many challenges was admittedly a bit difficult to fathom. Even if we cannot really understand how and why she is that way ..,. we still admire her for her tenacious spirit.

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