Elle’s opening credits make that comfortable seat you're in, a wasted fluffed up effort. But Anne Dudley's haunting, melodramatic score is only a minor indication of what Paul Verhoeven has in store.
Grotesque and unrelenting, the attack on Isabelle Huppert's Michèle is horrifying, but her reaction is perhaps even more strange. Blunt and uncompromising Michèle is a highly successful founder and CEO of a video games company. When she is sexually assaulted in her home by a masked intruder, rather than report the attack to the police, she decides to track her assailant down.
Verhoeven has always pushed against the norms of contemporary film and sometimes pushed the boundaries of good taste in the process. This time the Danish auteur, whose work includes the equally infamous Basic Instinct and Showgirls, has brought another fascinating character to screen. In Michèle we find a controlling, often unfeeling but never less than compelling protagonist. Powerful and self-assured, Elle avoids the too-familiar movie archetypes of women who have done well in a professional capacity (Fictional Vogue Editors anyone?). And, although, her choices are often questionable – unsavoury even, her openness about sex and her body generally is refreshing. Especially so, as an older woman fully embracing her identity and sexuality
Huppert, a much lauded arthouse actress in her native France, here is outstanding. César and Golden Globe award winning in the category for best actress, as well as garnering an Oscar nomination earlier this year for her role in the film, it's easy to see why her performance has brought so much acclaim. Huppert's easy switch between passionate and unflinching, and thought-provoking approach to her character's experience make for an entertaining and, ultimately, well-formed discussion of identity.
Paul Verhoeven's latest film dares to bring pitch black comedy and a relentlessly uncomfortable tone to a serious subject, which sparks a conversation that few will feel content wrapping up simply. With an outstanding central performance from Huppert, Elle will leave viewers questioning their ideas of humanity and sexuality, implying perhaps that we're all at odds with ourselves and our demons.
Words by Samuel Sims
Elle is release in UK Cinemas on March 10th.