Paul Verhoeven, the demented, clever, and inventive Dutch filmmaker who directed Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992), and Black Book (2006) is back in action with a controversial home invasion thriller which deals with rape, psychological trauma, and how one woman copes with her issues. Isabelle Huppert stars as Elle, a businessperson who actively seeks out her attacker on her own without notifying law enforcement, and deals with him in her own tweaky way (yeah, it’s a Paul Verhoeven film).
The character’s name is Michele Leblanc, the head of a major video game company. A woman who, through her tenacity and strength, has made a success for herself. There’s something off about the femme. Something in her past makes her the woman she is now, and this very issue leads her to dealing with her rapist in a most unconventional way. Written by David Birke, Elle (2016) is absolutely brilliant. Verhoeven pulls no stops in the intense rape scenes and other violence that occurs in the film.
Huppert delivers an astounding performance. At the beginning of the film, the audience should feel sympathy for what she’s been through, but as the film slowly reveals what kind of person she can be in her day-to-day life, the audience may not know how to feel. Verhoeven and Huppert do excellent work in developing the character as a complicated and realistic person. Her levels of good, bad, and ugly are all over the place. It’s a character study that will probably get analyzed by film scholars, and maybe even psychology professionals in the future.
Elle is a bold film that challenges conventions and boundaries. Verhoeven is courageous for telling the story, because it’s a story that could have easily taken place in real life. The film’s content and themes may be jarring to the senses, but Verhoeven’s presentation, Birke’s writing, and Huppert’s performance make it one of the most interesting films of the year.