Monday, January 16, 2017

Movie Review #552: "Elle" (2016)

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
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A middle-aged Parisan businesswoman with a checkered past tries to discover the identity of a man who raped her, all while balancing the ongoing dramas in her everyday life. 

"Elle" is a French language film directed by Paul Verhoeven, who is known for movies such as "Total Recall," "Basic Instinct," and "Showgirls." It stars Isabelle Huppert as Michèle Leblanc, the co-founder of a video game development company. She has a lot of skeletons in her closet, including the fact her father is an infamous serial killer. Director Paul Verhoeven has never been one to shy away from the sexually explicit, violent, or taboo, and "Elle" is no different as the first thing we see on screen will most certainly turn viewers off from the start. The film has a jarring opening as it begins with Michèle being raped by a masked attacker. Due to her past, she refuses to involve the police and attempts to find ways to protect herself and conduct her own investigation without their assistance to find the man responsible. She does this while dealing with many personal dramas going on in her own life involving her adult son, played by Jonas Bloquet, her aging mother, played by Judith Magre, her ex-husband with whom she is still close, played by Charles Berling, and her secret lover, who happens to be the husband of her best friend Anna, played by Anne Consigny.

Though the rape and finding the identity of the attacker at first seem to be the focus of "Elle," this film is far more of a character sketch about understanding Michèle herself and breaking down how she initially goes about her life after such a horrifying event happened to her. There's more than meets the eye when it comes to Michèle and what she chooses to disclose to those around her. Verhoven's handling of the rape scenes and Michèle's reaction to her assault, especially once the attacker is actually revealed, could be a point of contention for many viewers. Her reaction and the ultimate conclusion of the movie can be open for interpretation, and when we mention this, we mean her intent is what's questionable, not the final result itself. Isabelle Huppert does offer a fantastic performance as the blunt, somewhat abrasive, manipulative, possibly sociopathic, albeit charismatic Michèle. Huppert has been getting recognized left and right for her performance this award season, and we can't say we disagree with the choice to put her front and center as her performance is borderline exceptional.

"Elle" is not a film for everyone. Some may be downright repulsed by it, though this is nothing new for Verhoeven. It deals with not only sexual assault, but promiscuity, primal urges, and all things provocative, and it may leave a bad taste in the audience's mouths. Other viewers may see this as a film where this usually strong female lead character has to attempt to reclaim her power after an assault. Us? We're somewhere in the middle. We agree this film has merit, though we don't love it as much other people do.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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