Review - Elle
By midlandsmovies, Jul 10 2017 10:04AM
ELLE (2017) Dir. Paul Verhoeven
With a performance nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress (and several wins including at the Golden Globes) Isabelle Huppert stars as Michèle Leblanc in this darkly fascinating illicit drama.
Opening with a shocking rape at home, Huppert’s video game company manager fails to alert the police before resuming her complicated life. This involves her son’s strange relationships, her mother’s overt liaisons with younger men as well as her own affair with the husband of her business partner.
If that wasn’t enough, she is also the daughter of an infamous mass murderer (!) whose parole is approaching fast. As these strands intertwine, Verhoeven does a great job of expertly maintaining the plot threads as to avoid confusion and Huppert’s crucial role is central in almost every single scene.
Verhoeven is never one to shy away from tackling controversial themes and he fills his boots here. From the violent satires of Robocop and Starship Troopers through to the ugly sexual politics of Basic Instinct (and heck, even the underrated Hollow Man), the director has consistently commented on problematic issues with a clever knowing. Here he adds some (very) dark comedy situations – especially one involving her son’s lack of acknowledgement of the colour of 'his' baby’s dark skin – but the film’s style is one of overall seriousness with flickers of comedy when needed.
Is there ever too much of a good thing? Well, Verhoeven certainly throws everything into the film he can but if the film has one potential flaw it is that it tries to cover too much. Think of all the French-drama-film clichés regularly appearing in that country’s cinema – dysfunctional relationships, revenge, sexual politics, family dynamics – and the film piles them on. One subplot is the son’s girlfriend whom his mother dislikes that escalates into bullying by said girlfriend, which increases into an unannounced birth then topped with a paternity issue that subsequently results in a child kidnapping!
Many side plots were so full of ‘events’ they could have been movies in their own right. They add depth but the film could have focused on fewer events and more on their impact. That said, in contrast, the film is never dull and keeps the audience’s attention with a multitude of motivating characters and scenes.
Avoiding any black and white answers or solutions, Elle is a triumph for taking risks by questioning societal reactions to complicated events. And it asks the audience to confront these difficult decisions and their controversial outcomes.
As a huge fan of his sci-fi films, Verhoeven continues to push boundaries and shows his technical and story skill which still reflects the filmmaker I fell in love with. Although not necessarily in the genre I personally have liked him the best, Elle shows a director who can move into newer territories whilst taking their talent with them. And anchored by Huppert’s striking performance, Elle is a film that is an engrossing, stacked-to-the-brim, thoughtful success.
Midlands Movies Mike