Fantastic Fest 2016 Review: ELLE

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

Paul Verhoeven, the mad, ingenious Dutch filmmaker who directed such films as Robocop, Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct, and Starship Troopers, is back with a very controversial  thriller which deals with rape, psychological trauma, and how one woman copes with these intense issues.  Isabelle Huppert stars as the titular Elle, a businesswoman who actively seeks out her attacker, on her own without notifying any law enforcement and deals with him in her own twisted way.  The character’s name is actually Michele Lebanc, the head of a major video game company. A woman who, through her tenacity and strength, has made a success for herself.  However, something is wrong with Michele. Something in her past actually 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, Verhoeven’s film is absolutely brilliant, but very difficult to watch and stomach.  Verhoeven and Birke pull no punches in the  intense rape scenes and other violence that takes place in the film.  Huppert delivers an astounding performance that never, ever truly wins over the audience.  At the beginning of the film, the audience should feel sympathy for what has occurred, but as the film slowly reveals what kind of person she can be in her day-to-day life, some people may not know how to feel.  Fear, a little anger and hate are some of the emotions that I felt for Michele. At times, though, I couldn’t help, but feel some respect for her strength.  Birke, Verhoeven, and Huppert do excellent work in developing the character as a complicated and realistic person.  Her levels of good and bad are all over the map.  It is a character study that will probably get analyzed by film scholars, and maybe even psychology professionals in the future.

The film is Rated R, and it has some very harsh and cringeworthy moments that nearly push it past the point of R territory.  It truly is a bold film that challenges conventions and boundaries.  The movie will certainly disgust some people completely that they will absolutely abhor it.  As for me, it probably isn’t the most difficult film for me to sit through, but it is one that isn’t easy on the heart and soul.  I do, however, respect Verhoeven for his courageousness for telling such a story, because it is a story that could have easily taken place in real life.  The movie’s content and themes may be harsh, but Verhoeven’s presentation, Birke’s writing, and Huppert’s performance make it one of the top films of the year.

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