I have been looking forward to Paul Verhoeven’s provocative new movie Elle (released on Friday) as it had garnered high praise from various international film festivals but in turned out to be a major disappointment.
The story centres on a single middle-aged Parisian woman Michèle Leblanc, the director of a medieval fantasy video game company, who is raped in her own parlour by a masked assailant. Giving no immediate sign of distress and taking what appears to be a deliberate pleasure in shrugging off the terrifying incident, she locks the door after her attacker and gets on with life. Michèle is a woman coping with the fallout of an unwanted divorce, dealing with her own dopey son’s plans to move in with his controlling girlfriend and suffering an overbearing mother. She is someone who mocks the idiocy of others and enjoys her own power especially her capacity to disrupt. When her attacker insinuates himself into her psyche via a series of text messages, there is a whisper of fear, but she soon flicks it to ‘game on’.
Michèle’s refusal to call the police, we surmise is due to the fact that her father now incarcerated is a notorious killer whose crime she has become unfairly but indelibly associated with in the eyes of the public. Nevertheless, it seems to strain credulity and her desire for justice, which you would expect anyone in her place to have, becomes sidetracked.
Adapted from the novel “0h…” by Philippe Dijan, the film initially holds much promise as a thriller delving into a very singular woman’s mind and motivation, but although defying genre clichés and conventions, seems to lose its way in the middle. Michèle ‘s actions become increasingly bizarre and hard to fathom and the ending seems a cop-out. Verhoeven, whose past record includes Robocop, Total Recall, and the erotic thriller Basic Instinct, never compromises the brutal visceral horror of the attack but the violence – which is repeated several times- borders on being gratuitous and sickening. Furthermore, there is a distinct lack of involvement with the characters and the story.
French icon Isabelle Huppert, who can switch from scathing to playful with a liminal quiver, manages to maintain our interest in Michèle, a woman fascinated by her ordeal and even energised by it, but she is hampered by the flaws in the script.
Elle in cinemas nationwide from Friday 10 March 2017