Hmm… I am intrigued. So from what I gather, the film is about a woman who gets invaded in her home, raped, but… doesn’t inform the police, is nonchalant about it when talking to those closest to her, and a bunch of other stuff. All the while, she’s hunting down the man who did it. It’s that kind of revenge thriller, eh? Except this one’s less exploitative and more… you know, serious. Honestly, this looks pretty damn awesome.
The film stars Isabelle Huppert, primarily known for French films, but she’s been in such American films like DEAD MAN DOWN (2013) and I HEART HUCKABEES (2004). I expect her to own this movie. She certainly has that presence about her.
Directing is Paul Verhoeven, known for HOLLOW MAN (2000), STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997), and TOTAL RECALL (1990). Hmm… kind of a different movie for the man. But hey, when you feel strongly about a project, you go for it, right? Writing the script is David Birke. I’m not familiar with his work, but he’s slated to write SLENDER MAN (2017), based on that game… urban myth… whatever the hell that craze was. Composing the music is Anne Dudley, known for TRISTAN + ISOLDE (2006), MONKEYBONE (2001), and AMERICAN HISTORY X (1998). Finally, the cinematographer is Stéphane Fontaine, known for CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (2016), THE NEXT THREE DAYS (2010), and TALK TO ME (2007). He also just finished up with JACKIE (2016), so keep an eye out for his work in that film.
Overall, I’m pretty interested in seeing how this will end up. Looks good, can’t wait. This is my honest opinion of ELLE.
The story follows Michéle (Isabelle Huppert), opening with being sexually assaulted in her home. The rapist leaves her home, but brushes the incident off and continues with her day as if what happened was unimportant, not calling the police or telling family. But she doesn’t let what happened to her stop her from attempting to track down who might have done this to her, all the while trying to deal with her other external problems, including the delay of the video game that her company is developing, the crazy girlfriend of her son who is about to birth their child, and her affairs with multiple married men.
… Well, that was an incredibly French film. Er, well, as French as I’ve seen since BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (2013). This was a very odd and strange movie… and I think I kinda liked it.
So what makes it so odd? Well, look at the summary. A woman gets raped and doesn’t call the police? This…. was a very big pill that I was having difficulty swallowing. But then again, I knew this was the story from the trailer, but damned if it didn’t deliver. The way they build up her character is that she’s this strong, disgruntled, independent woman who takes care of business herself. Every scene after this graphic and brutal opening is showing how almost mean-spirited and unlikable she is. I highly doubt the movie was going for this, but I would swear they were challenging the audience to think, “Maybe she deserved to be raped.” I mean, she’s an unpleasant woman to work with at work, she’s kind of mean to her son, talking down on him almost every line (granted, for good reasons), is a relatively nasty ex-wife to her ex-husband… you see where I’m coming from yet? I mean, obviously, as a rational, semi-worldly man, I know no woman deserves to be raped, but… man, I really thought the story was aiming for that sometimes.
In the end, I won’t pretend to know what exactly this movie was going for with building up Michéle like that, but I can’t deny the beautiful mix of direction from Verhoeven and acting power from Huppert. So I got it right, Huppert owns this movie like it’s her bitch. She is absolutely phenomenal and it’s worth seeing just for her.
But more on the oddness, even the tone seemed to be all over the place. The movie opens on a rape scene, but then a scene later, the dialog goes:
(referring to her head wound)
Oh, I fell off my bike.
The bike that you never ride?
Now you know why.
What the hell, movie?! Cracking jokes after a rape scene?! How is my poor, uncultured American mind supposed to process that?! More importantly, why does this fit?! In all seriousness, I’m not even kidding about the whole “uncultured American” comment. I can’t tell if this is inconsistency in tone, or if it’s a French film-making thing. Every culture seems to have them. Bollywood has dance numbers at the end of their movies, and I hear that Japanese animated films abruptly end. For some reason, though, I have a problem with it as much as I don’t because on one level, yeah, she just got raped… and a joke is being cracked. Seems both unrealistic and insensitive. On the other, it was a genuinely funny joke. A lot of this movie has that brand of humor and I… can’t help but be amused. Europeans, man. Sometimes, you don’t know how to feel about ’em. But you can always count on them to keep you on your toes and lord knows Americans need their sense of perception shaken once in awhile.
When I said there’s a fair amount of humor in this flick, it’s ironically made a more competent comedy than most modern comedies. In the opening scene, her cat is implied to be watching her get raped, and later on she tells her cat, “You don’t have to claw his eyes out, but at least scratch him next time.” Another scene involves Vincent’s (Jonas Bloquet) girlfriend, Josie (Alice Isaaz). She’s rushed to the hospital to give birth to her child, accompanied by Vincent’s black friend, Omar (Stéphane Bak), but as soon as the baby comes out, three things happen. One, the baby is revealed to be of mixed race. Two, Vincent is in complete denial that it’s not his. And three, both Michéle and her ex, Richard (Charles Berling) take one glance at the gleeful Omar standing next to them and Michéle says, “We’re going to need a DNA test.” Seriously, me and the rest of the auditorium was laughing hysterically.
But now it’s time to dive into the real messed up shit this movie brought forth. So a good chunk of the movie is her trying to track down her rapist, who’s made her way into her home a couple times in the movie, leaving semen on her bed sheets with taunting messages, as well as sending her lewd text messages on her phone. A set of characters that get introduced are her new neighbors, a young religious married couple and Michéle begins to develop sexual feeling for the husband, Patrick (Laurent Lafitte). After a friendly get-together with some friends, and under-the-table flirting with him, she discovers that he feels the same way and almost share a night of passion not long after. But lo and behold, she discovers that her attacker was him. And… she has probably the most bare minimum of reaction that you can imagine. To make matters even more fucked up, she gets into this car accident, but can’t get a hold of anyone that she calls. As she commits to her hatred for the police, she winds up calling, you fucking guessed it, Patrick. He saves her, takes her home, bandages her up… and they have sex… consensual… essentially reenacting rape. They do this twice in the film. I… I have very little to comment on. I’m not even sure what can be said, other than… this shit is fucked up. At some point, Michéle says that too and tries to end the… whatever you want to call that shit because “affair” isn’t accurate, but it takes a good long while for her to get there.
Maybe this movie isn’t NEON DEMON (2016) fucked up, but it’s still kind of up there. At the end of the day… yeah, I think this movie’s great. Probably not my favorite if the year, but it’s worth checking out if you like foreign films and can appreciate good story-telling. Some amazing performances, some offbeat but still witty humor, an all-around powerful and wonderful piece of cinema make this a very memorable film.
My honest rating for ELLE: 5/5
- THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
- Disney’s MOANA
- BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK
- BLEED FOR THIS