Elle movie full length review - Provocative psychological thriller
Director Paul Verhoeven is famous for his provocative films, often combining sex, violence and psychological power play. Actress Isabelle Huppert is famous for her demanding roles, often playing powerful women with an obsession for sex and/or violence.
Put the two together and you can guess what you get. Elle's lead character, Michèle, is a woman who owns a video game company, specializing in games filled with extreme sex and violence. She casually shares her bed with her best friend's husband. She masturbates watching the neighbour unloading the trunk of his car. Her father is a convicted serial killer. Oh, and she doesn't seem to mind getting raped.
At least, that's the impression after the very first scene. After having been attacked and violently raped, she doesn't call the police of even a friend, but a fast food restaurant, ordering something to eat.
The film explores not only Michèle's relationship with her rapist, whose identity is established after about two thirds of the film, but also the men and women in her immediate circle. They all have their problems and peculiarities, and Michèle seems to pull all their strings as a hard, cold woman, superbly mastering her feelings and emotions.
For the viewer, it takes some effort to understand all the different relationships, and even more to grasp Michèle's behaviour. The only explanation Verhoeven offers, is her troubled youth as the daughter of a serial killer. In my opinion, the film suffers from an overload of characters with psychological difficulties. There's a mother hiring a gigolo because she can't accept getting older, there's a son clinging to a dominating girlfriend, a neighbour with a wife obsessed with religion, an employee playing a dirty trick on Michèle, and so on. Personally, I found it a bit too much.
The one thing that stands out in this film, is Isabelle Huppert's acting. Any other actress could easily have made Michèle's character unbelievable. But Huppert's utter detachment from any form of sensitivity makes the part completely convincing.