|Starring||Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Judith Magre|
|Release||TBC (US) 10 MAR (UK) Certificate 18|
With echoes of Michael Haneke's Cache, Elle entwines several whodunit mysteries and invites you to play close attention. As well as the riddle of her masked attacker, Michele must discover who is sending her abusive messages at work, where she runs a successful videogame company, while her own backstory is teased out in small doses as we discover she's the daughter of an infamous serial killer, with hints that she might have even been complicit. Each plot strand is an opportunity for Michele to exercise power: whether she's rape-revenging, amateur sleuthing or Olympic-level flirting, she remains a total boss at all times.
Huppert is - and I'd like to be serious for a second - suppert duppert. These roles just don't exist for women in Hollywood. The entire film is hung on her enormously complex and charismatic performance. Michele's response to her assault is as blasé as they come (a Gallic shrug, a glass of wine and a blood-stained bubble bath) and she remains unmoved in the face of violence, infidelity, betrayal and even death. Verhoeven paints a portrait of a woman from whom society is continually trying to relinquish control. That he does so on such a broad canvas is occasionally to the film's detriment; there is enough story here to service a whole fleet of badass women, but Huppert is equal to the misery that Verhoeven piles on, soaking it up like a sponge.
It's a challenging film for sure. Verhoeven and Huppert dare you to dislike Michele, but Elle's blackly comic sensibilities keep you onside. Maybe it's okay for a film to have a lead character with questionable morals. Maybe one cocked eyebrow from a give-a-fuck Huppert is worth a thousand sanitised Nicole Kidman performances. A fascinating yet flawed study of modern feminism, it is impossible to imagine any other country in the world than France producing Elle, and anyone other than Isabelle Huppert and Paul Verhoeven doing it justice. I really must get around to watching RoboCop one day.