BFI London Film Festival: Elle

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Elle
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte and Anne Consigny
LFF Screening October 8th, 11th, 2016
Pre-order on iTunes or Amazon

by Joanna Orland

I’m not sure what to make of Elle – On one hand it’s a fantastic drama starring the captivating Isabelle Huppert. On the other, it is an insane black comedy revenge thriller about rape, but with a feminist core. I don’t even know how the latter is possible, but director Paul Verhoeven has made quite the unique and impressive film with Elle.

Key to this film not straying into the absurd is the performance by Isabelle Huppert as Michèle Leblanc, a woman at the helm of a video games company who finds herself the victim of a violent attack. She also has a very dark past thanks to the violent actions of her father. The video game she makes is plagued by violence, which she deems not graphic enough. She is surrounded by violence and begins to fantasize about violence. Is it Stockholm syndrome or is it revenge fantasy? Either way, the cool and calm Michèle goes about her day, shrugging off the terrifying rape incident that befell her.

Michèle’s attacker begins to taunt her through text messages and by leaving disgusting remnants of himself in her apartment. She is being taunted at work with a graphic animation from her game. She is being taunted at home by her family and neighbours. She is being taunted in public due to the notoriety her father’s past has caused her. There is a hint of fear, but more of a powerful acceptance to the challenge ahead of her. And so she seeks to taunt back, playing a game of cat and mouse with her rapist.

For a film with such controversial and dark subject matter to work, it has to be done with the sophistication Verhoeven demonstrates here. It’s not only believable and enthralling, but it’s also sympathetic to Michèle who, while definitely the victim here, does no favours for herself by entrapping her rapist rather than going to the police for help.  Huppert plays it mischievously and powerfully as she struggles to take back control of her life. This is an impeccable character study, tense thriller, funny comedy and overall fantastic film.



 

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