Elle movie full length review - A fable on the inheritability of Violence and its impact on intimacy
There are many clues in this movie that point to the fact that it is a fantasy-fable. Many little events throughout are odd and seemingly irrelevant to the plot's unfolding. They are just weird.
First among these oddities is when Michelle takes a bath after being raped. From the white foam of the bath, blood emerges. While this is certainly a sign of the brutality of the act she has been a victim of, it is also clearly, a symbol of lost virginity. Odd!
Again, long before she knows that her neighbor is her attacker, Michele has a strong attraction to him.
In the courtyard of the hospital in which her son's girlfriend just had a baby, Michele confesses something very strange to a nurse. This hospital nursery is where she met her friend Anna. Anna had lost her baby the same day she had her son, and Michele accepted that Anna breast feed her boy. Really strange! What does this have to do with the story?
But wait, Michele's grandson who was just born in the hospital is black. Yet, his putative parents are white. Strangely again, a friend of the young couple is present to see the newborn. This friend is black. Of course, everybody notices the genetic oddity. That is, except Michele's son who is oblivious to the fact.
What is the meaning of this twin hospital scene. Is Michele's son really her son? Could she possibly be a virgin, as maybe hinted by the bath scene?
Hold on! This does not make sense. We see Michele engaging in sexual activities. How could she be a virgin? She is having an affair with her friend Anna's husband after all.
Well. That is true, but none of the activities shown involve intercourse.
The only time we see her having intercourse with her friend's husband is after the rape scene. And, in that scene, she is playing dead, oddly acting as if she was a corpse. Weird game. Who does this kind of thing? And most importantly, what could this have to do with the story?
At one point towards the end of the story, Michele confesses to her friend Anna that she has been having an affair with her husband. Later on, as Anna confronts her, Michele strangely admits that she did this very casually, because the occasion presented itself. Then she adds that this is not the worse of it. That the worst of it is that she willed it, or did not find the will not to do it (I can't recall). Like the proverbial scorpion that stings the frog who is helping it cross the river.
Michele is fully aware of the violence she has been the victim of, which she inherited from her father. She knows how it has transformed her. She despises her father and her mom who forgives him. She probably regards her mom as an accomplice.
Michelle knows evil. The power she has in the workplace and in her relations with others comes from her familiarity with violence. She can be violent, and yet remains perfectly courteous and likable.
But of course, the price of this power is her inability to experience any sort of intimacy: with others, with herself and, dare we say, with God. She knows the curse that entangles her, but she cannot escape it.
She manifests her frustration with little acts of cruelty, like the destruction of her cash-poor ex-husband's car. (He is the exact opposite of what she is: an idealist who has been dealt something very different by life. What she received in violence, he clearly received in innocence or love.) She resembles the cat that can't help playing with the sparrow that was knocked down to the ground after it hit her window.
The only way Michelle can relate to others is a with a very French cynicism - the typical godless, hedonistic mood that binds the French elite.
So it is no wonder that when she meets a man who is as infused with violence as she his - her neighbor and rapist - she is troubled. A form of dance unfolds between the two of them. Intimacy at last? But as the dance evolves and becomes more dangerous, justice "somewhat" prevails. Her assailant is killed by her son when the neighbor tries once again to rape her. Crime cannot remain unpunished. Even if she clearly enjoys seeing the monster go down and may have enjoyed the dance.
Michele regains a bit of her humanity. Her relation with her son and daughter-in-law are normalized.
She even lets herself be humbled by a conversation with the wife of her assailant... When she realizes that the pious Catholic wife of the "monster" knew all along about her husband's misdeeds.
Michele must have told herself: "Yes Michele. You are not alone to know the cost of evil. Time to stop being so self-centered..." Great fable about violence and intimacy. The European take on "a history of violence". Not as polished as a Hollywood flick, but nuanced and smart. What a relief from men wearing tights and punching each other in the face.