Day 15 — Elle (2016)
Director → Paul Verhoeven-
Genre → Psychological thriller-
Writers → Phillippe Dijan (novel) ; David Birke (screenplay); Harold Manning (french adaption)
Production Co.’s →
- SBS Productions; Twenty Twenty Vision Filmproduktion GmbH;
- France 2 Cinema; Entr Chien et Loup; Canal +; France Televisions;
- Orange Cinema Series; Casa Kafka Pictures;
- Casa Kafka Pictures Movie Tax Shelter Empowered by Belfius; Proximus;
- Centre National de la Cinematographie; Filmforderungsanstalt;
- Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Federal de Belgique.
Far too early in the morning I watched Verhoeven candidly explore the relationship between victim and assailant in his rape revenge thriller Elle. I was transfixed, horrified and impressed as this maniacal coldness flooded my screen.
The rape scene is displayed immediately. We see broken glass, cold air and Michèle’s (Isabelle Huppert) grey cat looking ominously down at a masked assailant raping its owner.
The imagery is graphic and Verhoeven perfectly depicts that fearful realism following a brutality.
Michèle does not respond conventionally to the rape.
She does NOT call the police.
She does NOT mourn in any visible way.
Instead, she inanimately orders takeaway food, baths herself and discards her dress.
The only serving reminder of the brutality is her puffy face and broken door.
The opening is cleverly done and we, like Michèle, emotionally divorce ourselves from the event. This allows us to move into Michèle’s mindset and agree with her practical response of preparing herself for further attack with pepper spray and an axe.
Meanwhile her attacker sends her cryptic messages.
Midway through the film there are obvious clues dropped to identify the ‘assailant’. The films objective is NOT to shock with a grand reveal, but rather delve into the psychosis of trauma. This includes the sardonic seduction of Michèle and her neighbour; the underlying construct being attraction associated with rape.
Verhoeven is not encouraging rape in anyway, instead he removes the stigma behind a shared response.
The confronting reality is non-consensual sexual acts may stimulate sexual arousal for the victim.
This does NOT mean the victim implicitly consented to the rape.
What it can create is mixed emotions surrounding sex and pleasure.
Verhoeven explores this taboo through the sexually aggressive encounters Michèle has throughout the film that leave viewers questioning her motivations and ability to survive.
*They are captured with such startling realism they’re increasingly difficult to stomach.
As the movie picks up speed we start questioning whether, in some sadistic parallel, Michèle deserves the attack. AFTER ALL, her father is a merciless psychopath imprisoned for murdering many people and animals. Michèle, a child at the time, coldly looked on at the scene and this led to media rumours that she was her father’s accomplice.
This idea of an indoctrinated evil is an interesting addition given Michèle’s emotional detachment. Even her explicit denial of assisting her father does not leave viewers feeling they have got the whole story. The overarching takeaway though is it doesn’t matter, what Elle projects is nobody should ever have to experience what Michèle currently is.
Verhoeven masterfully synchronises Michele’s detached responses with this underlying fear. The plentiful characters are exceptional and create these lingering moments regardless of their ‘on-screen’ time. It is a chilling — must watch — film that explores so many pertinent issues for society.
I give it 90/100 handbag axes.
- Huppert’s detached face.
- The exceptional plot.
- The boundaries pushed around rape, female sexuality and revenge.
- Michèle’s plastic surgery crazed, elaborate mother.
- I would have liked some further exploration into the father’s crimes and impact on Michèle’s childhood.