The first scene of the movie is a close-up of a cat sitting, unperturbed by the noise of a couple making love. The camera pulls out to see not two people making love, but a man in a mask raping a woman who is trying to resist but is overpowered. When she tries to fight back, he savagely hits her. When he is done, he quickly leaves, and the woman lies on the floor panting, her face bruised and her clothes disheveled.
She gathers herself and though, in shock, she begins cleaning up the mess the rapist made, including household items that have been smashed upon the floor. She takes off the dress she is in and stuffs it into the trash. We see her take a bath, with blood coming from her that slowly floats to the top, and then, dries off and casually orders sushi. It’s very evident that this woman is strong-willed and will not let this event break her.
Her son comes over, and she explains the bruise on her face by saying she fell off her bike. He hands her a picture of him and his girlfriend. We realize by the way the woman reacts, by putting the picture face down on the mantel that she is not fond of the girlfriend of her sons. He asks for a loan and from her line of questioning, it’s very evident that her son’s new girlfriend is behind this request. She finally gives in to the request and the son leaves. The woman then searches for a small hammer, looks out of each window for the rapist, and satisfied that he isn’t coming back, she goes to bed, falling asleep with the hammer in her hand.
This is how Paul Verhoeven’s newest film opens, setting the stage for a story of a woman, played by the magnificent Isabelle Huppert, that refuses to become a victim. Verhoeven mixes a number of genres in the film, including film noir, suspense and even in a few places, comedy to create a roller-coaster of a movie that will keep you guessing where it will go next. When Elle starts getting texts from her assailant, she isn’t the type of person to stand by and worry. Instead, she begins a cat and mouse game to find the rapist. We know early on that Elle is not to be messed with, and Verhoeven explores this trait of her throughout the film. Though sex is a big part of this film and Elle’s make up, Verhoeven doesn’t romanticize it. It’s very apparent that sex is another way that Elle can display power and that’s why her finding out who committed the rape, and her getting revenge is so important.
Elle has a busy life, and it’s filled with lots of characters. Her son (Jonas Bloquet), a young man who disappoints her to no end by being dominated by his pregnant and very needy girlfriend. Elle has an ex-husband whom she likes to torment (she purposely hits his car as she backs into a tight parking spot) who is now dating a much younger and slightly dim woman. She has an elderly mother (Judith Magre) who spends her money on trying to look younger for her twenty-something boyfriend. Elle runs a software company with another woman, who just happens to be married to a man Elle is having an affair with. Elle spends quite a bit of her time staring down at her neighbor, a young married man (Laurent Lafitte) that Elle just might set her sights on.
Huppert is sensational as the complex Elle, and you can’t take your eyes off of her as Elle practically walks in a sex cloud of determination and spite. Huppert is not playing a character that generates sympathy and likability. Instead, this character is one that you will not like, and many times in the film you will hate her decisions. Huppert portrays a woman who can very quickly turn from a fun-loving, seemingly nice person to one that will at a moment’s notice turn on you and be extremely vindictive. Elle is a woman who only cares about results, not what people think about her, and Huppert brings this brash woman to the screen with a dogged determination. This is a woman you don’t want to cross, and Huppert makes sure you know her bite is worse than her bark.
Elle is a film that will surprise you and keep in suspense. Paul Verhoeven brings us a tale about a woman who isn’t going to let a violent rape bring her down and Huppert gives us a woman who is powerful, brave and sometimes maddening. It’s a movie and a performance that is not to be missed. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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