Underneath the opening credits the audience hears the sounds of glasses and dishes breaking followed by screams and signs of an obvious struggle. Paul Verhoeven's frame settles on a black cat then shifts to an ongoing rape ending with the accoster fleeing from the scene. The victim Michele Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) picks herself up, cleans up the mess then goes on about her evening as if the event never occurred.
The next day she arrives at work where her gaming company is behind schedule on a major game release. Michelle reads the riot act pushing for the game to be more violent, more graphic, more explicit gaining praise from most of her programmers. She returns home greeting her neighbours Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) and Rebecca (Virgine Efira) who are working on their Christmas decorations. Her son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) who's being dominated by his manipulative girlfriend drops by for a visit looking for money for an apartment for the pair and soon to be born child of questionable lineage.
Director Paul Verhoeven takes the Philippe Djian novel and cranks up the perversity meter to fourteen with his first foray into French language filmmaking. Huppert is not a participant but rather the driver of the twisted action as she is in control in every relationship despite how it may appear some times on screen. The narrative's other subplot involving Michele's father explains our heroine's reluctance to trust the police or go them to report the assault. The piece lays out multiple complex relationships for Michele that Huppert navigates smartly.
After her attacker begins to stalk her wanting more contact; Michelle goes to a hardware store making purchases to protect herself leading to the most comedic scene in the film where her ex husband suffers the wrath of the new found defensive measures. Back at work the game progresses slowly leading to confrontations with her staff. As her mother pushes her to attend a major upcoming legal event for her father. While her son seems to be entangled with a woman that's an unappreciative bully while he works a minimum wage job to support a child bearing no resemblance.
Isabelle Huppert once again shows her mastery of the craft and a willingness to tackle the most challenging roles. Her work is physical, emotional and psychological shifting throughout the film. Judith Magre is very strong as Michele mother Irene. She is desperately trying to hang on to the last embers of youth spending time with men that Michele fears she may be paying for thier company.
Elle is a psychological thriller that is worthy of a capital P and a capital T. Verhoeven camera does not flinch at the violent exchanged but instead leads audience in closer for a better view. The story is nimbly paced featuring enough twist to through the viewer off track of the assailant but not to many to make the narrative seem staged. It's a unique production featuring one of the greatest actors working today making it a film despite its graphic depictions at times well worth the watch.
**** Out of 4
Elle | Paul Verhoeven | France/ Germany/ Belgium | 2016 | 130 Minutes.
Tags: Rape, Gaming, Violence, Pregnancy, Prison, Bail Hearing, Dinner Party, Stroke, Coma, Midnight Mass, Nativity Scene.