Elle | Film Review
By Oliver Webb
Elle, Paul Verhoeven’s latest film is a horrifying experience which will undoubtedly leave a mark on those who have seen it. The film opens with a traumatising rape scene and for the first few seconds there is only a blank screen visible as audiences are left in darkness to hear the scene taking place. In an opening sequence so shocking and unnerving it’s almost as if Verhoeven has deliberately placed the spectators’ in the same room where the brutal rape is taking place. After only hearing screams, we become fully immersed in the scene as the image focuses on the sadistic rape. Immediately afterwards, Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) bins her clothes and continues with her evening plans, later attending dinner with her friends. Her friends are aware that something is wrong, Michèle then says, “I suppose I was raped,” before casually changing the subject of conversation much to their bewilderment.
Michèle Leblanc is head of a successful video game company and is left battered and scarred by an unknown assailant after being raped and beaten in her home. Michèle is portrayed by the versatile Isabelle Huppert, in a role that gained Huppert her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Huppert is remarkable throughout and deserves recognition as a great actor. There aren’t many, if any, actors who would have played Michèle as thrillingly as Huppert.
Michèle begins to suspect numerous people after she is the subject of humiliation at work after a graphic animation surfaces, depicting herself being raped by a monster. It seems that most of her misogynistic employees are incapable of being told what to do by an independent woman, thus taunting her at every available opportunity. There is little Michèle can do other than to inform those close to her. She is of course fully aware that the police won’t take any interest because of her family’s past and ultimately decides to deal with the situation single-handedly.
Despite the films subject, Elle does however contain elements of humour. Michèle’s son is often the laughing stock of the family despite his best efforts and intentions of becoming a father and raising a family with his troubled partner. In another scene, Michèle, jealous of her separated husband’s latest love interest, jokes: “Bimbos with big tits never worried me, but a woman who’s read The Second Sex will chew you up.”
Elle is gripping from start to finish. The shock and horror on the faces of cinema-goers connotes the impact of the animalistic sexual violence and brutal rape scenes depicted in Elle. I left the cinema feeling nauseated and in shock at the events I’d just witnessed on screen. No doubt the film will leave you questioning its content and wondering why Huppert isn’t more widely known.