Review: Paul Verhoeven’s comedy-thriller Elle is typically provocative

Isabelle Huppert delivers a tour-de-force Oscar-nominated performance in Elle. Picture: Picturehouse

Isabelle Huppert delivers a tour-de-force Oscar-nominated performance in Elle. Picture: Picturehouse Entertainment/SBS - Credit: Picturehouse Entertainment/SBS

Isabelle Huppert delivers a tour-de-force Oscar-nominated performance as a rape victim who emerges from her horrific ordeal with a new-found sense of purpose.

Elle (18)

***

Paul Verhoeven has never found a nose that he couldn't put out of joint. Over four decades he has careered wildly through the film world – Europe, Hollywood, back to Europe – like some cinematic Boris Johnson, pointedly going out of his way to tread on toes and cause offence.

He's a misanthrope, but at least he's a get-up-and-go misanthrope, souring the world and the wider universe — in his masterpiece Starship Troopers — with zeal and gusto.


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Now, working in France for the first time, he may have found his perfect lead character – Michele Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert), a woman who's not going to let something like being brutally raped by a masked assailant in her own home make her sympathetic.

After the assault she cleans up the mess and goes about her everyday life. For her that means being the boss of a company making violent console games; cheating with her best friend's husband; despairing of her son and his shrewish girlfriend; being rude to most people she knows and having strangers tip rubbish on her in cafes because of a notorious incident in her youth.

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Now, on top of all that, she has to try to work out who the rapist is.

Elle is a black comedy, which is how it can get away with turning the rape into a whodunnit. It is genuinely funny though and enormously powerful; a little reminiscent of Cache.

There will be some who, not unreasonably, will object to the casual way it goes through such contentious material, and feel that it behoves Verhoeven to give it some context or meaning.

I thoroughly enjoyed the provocation up until the last ten minutes, when it occurred to me that actually all we were watching was simply a group of chic, stylish but thoroughly ghastly people being ghastly – just like almost every other French film.

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