Micheele (Isabelle Huppert) seems indestructible. Head of a leading video game company, she brings the same ruthless attitude to her love life as to business. Being attacked in her home by an unknown assailant changes Michele's life forever. When she resolutely tracks the man down, they are both drawn into a curious and thrilling game-a game that may, at any moment, spiral out of control.
Review by Louise Keller:
Dark themes of violence, sex, fantasy and guilt are intertwined in Paul Verhoeven's mesmerising drama about twisted minds and relationships. The confronting nature of the material is right up Verhoeven's street; he skillfully creates a reality filled with tension, doubt and fear. Adapted from Philippe Djian's novel, David Birke has penned a wonderful screenplay in which Isabelle Huppert's Michele is the central pivot around which all the other characters are manipulated. It is a meaty role for Huppert, who is no stranger to controversy (how could anyone forget her 2001 award-winning masochistic Piano Teacher in Michel Haneke's film of the same name?)
Verhoeven has never been short of controversy, either. I remember walking up the red carpet at Cannes in 1992 for the premiere of Verhoeven's Basic Instinct; the buzz-word going around was not to miss the raunchy opening scene with Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas. Similarly, the opening scene of Elle is also one you should not miss. The loud, violent sex plays out with no image at all, leaving the action to our imagination. The serene, nonplused face of a British blue shorthaired cat is the first one we see. As Michele sweeps up the crockery and broken glass from the floor when the act has taken place, we are unsure as to whether or not the man wearing the ski-mask was welcome. Is it rape or sex by consent?
Verhoeven is good at this kind of innuendo with relationships, which forms the crusty essence of the film. 'Everyone rolls the dice,' Michele says early in the film, which reflects the essence of many of the relationships. Huppert's Michele is a smooth blended cocktail of victim and predator in the way she manipulates the men in her life. While she might be haunted by past events involving her father, her relationship with her gigolo-loving mother (Judith Magre) is one of contempt. Michele's successful business is one involving the creation of fantasy video games with violent and sexual connotations.
Adultery, secrets, lies and manipulation are all part of Michele's world and there are many intricate links between all the characters. These include her struggling son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), his angry pregnant partner Josie (Alice Isaaz), her failed writer ex-husband Richard (Charles Berling), his young yoga-teaching girlfriend Helene (Vimala Pons), Kurt (Lucas Prisor) the precocious video game designer plus her handsome neighbor Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) and his devout Catholic wife Rebecca (Virginie Efira).
We are on the edge of our seats as we sink deeper and deeper into Michele's dark world. So engrossed are we that we are sucked into the film's reality. There is no melodramatic music score to alert us to the shocks and surprises that are in store. Verhoeven relies on his craft and fine cast to keep us enthralled. Miraculously, everything comes together as all the subplots weave together to form a satisfying conclusion. There is no doubt whatsoever that we have seen quite a film. This is Verhoeven at his best, showcasing Huppert at hers.
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(France, Ger, Belgium, 2016)
CAST: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Christian Berkel, Judith Magre, Jonas Bloquet, Alice Isaaz.
PRODUCER: Said Ben Said, Michel Merkt
DIRECTOR: Paul Verhoeven
SCRIPT: David Birke (Novel by Philippe Djian)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stephane Fontaine
EDITOR: Job ter Burg
MUSIC: Anne Dudley
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Laurent Ott
RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 27, 2016