I have loved Paul Verhoeven since Robocop, and that love was only strengthened by Total Recall and the totally underrated Starship Troopers. The Dutch filmmaker’s first film in French is a smart, taut, dramatic thriller about a successful businesswoman, Michele Leblanc (Academy Award nominee Isabelle Huppert), playing a game of cat and mouse with her rapist.
This film is far more complex than a one-sentence logline can do justice. Huppert’s portrayal of Michele is magnificent; the actress is simultaneously beautiful and ugly. Michele is a controversial public figure due to her imprisoned father’s horrendous decades-old crime, and her relationship with her son is strained at best. Yet she charms nearly everyone, including her banker neighbor (Laurent Lafitte, de la Comédie Française), who is married to a strict Catholic beauty.
Verhoeven lucked into a wonderful foreign actress after no big Hollywood name would take this challenging role. The director is as masterful as his star, constructing his film like a classic of Hollywood or foreign cinema. Elle is not a simple filmgoing experience. Expect to be challenged by its narrative and emotional construction. You can also expect to leave with proof that the unduly tarnished Verhoeven is as talented as they come.
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