By: Oberst von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Michèle “Elle” Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) is brutally held down in her own home and raped by a masked assailant one night. The only witness to the crime is her cat, who sits there and does what all cats do; watches coldly from a distance. Instead of calling the police or someone else for help, she cleans herself off, makes a visit to the doctor for some tests, and takes a few precautions like changing the locks. Otherwise, she more or less goes about her daily business, as she is a businesswoman with things to do, and other problems in her life to address. Plus, she had a dark experience as a child with the police and media, involving her father, and she’d rather stay away from any further publicity. When she eventually does tell a few people of her attack, she seems unfazed. This isn’t exactly true, but her way of dealing with the trauma is far from conventional. The attacker begins a harassment campaign against her, so she takes action to find out the identity of the attacker. Elle may have been a victim, but she certainly will not allow herself to be victimized further.
Director Paul Verhoeven has always been a filmmaker willing to court controversy. Whether accused of excessive violence, excessive sexual content, or other objectionable themes, he has remained essentially the same daring filmmaker since he began his career in the Netherlands during the 1970s. Elle is yet another film from the director that challenges the mores and conventional thought, this time on the horrifying subject of rape.
The character of Elle, played brilliantly by Isabelle Huppert, is a career-focused woman who treats her assault little differently than any other issue in her life, business or personal. She collects herself calmly, and methodically begins the process of uncovering what and who is responsible. While doing this she also works to keep her video game company in order while an impending deadline approaches, deals with the gold-digging pregnant girlfriend of her well-meaning but dim son, attends several social events, and witnesses new threats from her attacker. Her confrontation after the reveal of her attacker is particularly strange as she gains power over him in a way that is not likely to be approved of by all audiences.
The film’s greatest strength is how despite these truly terrible things that occur, Verhoeven finds a strange kind of humor in it all. These brief moments of levity keep the film from falling into dour territory, and create a brilliant sort of irony that shines light on some of the more bizarre elements of the story. Verhoeven normally uses this kind of humor for satire, and though I’m still unsure if he has a specific target this time around, it never feels unfocused.
Elle is a fascinating and darkly comic film that explores taboo subject matter in a truly horrifying light.
Elle (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for that cat… that fucking cat
Take a Drink: whenever something fucked up happens and Elle just kind of brushes it off.
Do a Shot: whenever her assault is re-played
Do a Shot: whenever you suspect someone of being the attacker