By Bob Bloom
“Elle” is the sort of psychosexual thriller you come to expect from director Paul Verhoeven.
The central plotline of the movie is the rape of Michelle, a middle-aged woman, by an unknown assailant in her Paris apartment.
Michelle, played by Isabelle Huppert, is the head of a successful video-game company.
After the assault, Michelle calmly cleans up her home and goes on with her life as if nothing happened.
Later, at dinner, she casually mentions the attack to some friends. They, of course, are aghast, but Michelle simply shrugs it off.
Michelle is reluctant to involve the police, nor does she want any publicity.
She avoids the law and the press because of a childhood trauma. It seems her father went on a killing spree in their neighborhood, murdering more than 20 people. He also burned down the family’s house. A picture of a young Michelle covered in ash ran in newspapers throughout France, thus linking her as an alleged accomplice to her father’s heinous crimes.
Michelle sets out on her own to uncover her assailant, suspecting some of her younger male employees.
The identity of the perpetrator is eventually revealed, yet Michelle still does not inform the police.
“Elle” is a strange and uncomfortable movie. You struggle with your feelings about Michelle. Her psychological make up is enigmatic. You don’t know whether to pity her or be afraid of her. In truth, it’s a blend of both.
Huppert does not make it easy to like Michelle. She is judgmental, icy, yet also sexually aggressive. Michelle lives her life in an uncompromising manner, ignoring social boundaries.
Huppert makes it difficult to sympathize with Michelle on any level. She is a warped individual, who would rather deal with the world on her own terms, no matter whom she hurts. And Huppert skillfully highlights Michelle’s various contradictions.
For example, Michelle has an affair with her best friend’s husband, simply on a whim, though she does not like him.
Overall, “Elle” is a very disturbing movie because of its protagonist and subject matter.
Yet, Verhoeven continually upends expectations and keeps you involved through suspense, not so much on who attacked Michelle, but on her method for eventually exacting her revenge.
Like his “Basic Instinct,” “Elle” is another of Verhoeven’s forays into sexual politics. Sordid and riveting, this movie will hold you in a vise no matter how hard you try to break away.
Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.
3 stars out of 4
(R), disturbing images and grisly violence, including sexual assault, nudity, sexual content, language