This French language psychological thriller from director Paul Verhoeven opens with a violent rape scene which sets the tone for the disturbing, dark and puzzling journey ahead.
Isabelle Huppert crushes female archetypes with her stoic depiction of Michéle Leblanc, the CEO of a successful video game company who conducts both business transactions and personal relationships with the same ruthless approach. Her world is shaken when she is violently attacked by a masked assailant in her own home, and the film ensues with Michéle attempting to go about life as normally as possible whilst she pursues tracking down her attacker by her own means – which leads her and the abuser into a twisted game of cat and mouse.
Huppert’s character interestingly walks the line between victim and anti-hero as she undertakes dubious activities. The much darker truth of her past is slowly excavated as the waining task of identifying her antagoniser carries out, an incident which explains her reluctance to contact the police. Meanwhile the people in her life are dysfunctional enough: the healthiest relationships she has are with her ex-husband (who once hit her) and her best friend and business partner (whose husband she is conducting an on-again-off-again affair with), and her hopeless adult son is far too reliant on her charity.
This film is bafflingly difficult to rate, it is much more complex than your average rape-revenge thriller. It is superbly directed, strengthened by a strong cast, and smattered with crafty black humour and societal critique. However, there is little reward for the pervading traumatic themes and darkness. Yet the storytelling is too complex and well-executed to dismiss.
Elle will either leave you hungry for more lingering European cinema, or happy to avoid more adventurous cinematic outings in favour of light, safely-predictable Hollywood blockbusters for the foreseeable future. (AM)