What can I say about this movie? How about WOW. It came out of left field for me and it really shouldn’t have. Actress Isabelle Huppert was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for the role but did I care? No. I was way too busy hoping that somehow Meryl Streep would beat Emma Stone for the Oscar. She didn’t. Emma won. Did Emma deserve to win? Some may think so. But Meryl Streep acted the pants off of her and so did Isabelle Huppert. Her role in Elle is stunning and for a film that slightly glorifies rape it is a monster of a film. It completely blew me away.
I’m going to point out a few things here before I start my proper review.
The film is directed by Paul Verhoeven. Verhoeven is known for his many films including RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and Starship Troopers. There may be some who look at the list of movies and scoff. I see Verhoeven as a genius who truly knows the art of satire. Some know this about him and can appreciate it in his films…even Showgirls (which is very much a guilty pleasure). Some don’t see it. Which is a shame.
The film stars Isabelle Huppert. She’s a very famous French actress who has starred in over 100 films. I’m a huge film geek and I’ve…never heard of her. After watching this film I feel like a complete moron for not knowing. A complete and utter fool. That’s what I am. I apologize Isabelle.
As for Elle itself? In French it means “she.” But if you look it up on Urban Dictionary you get an even better meaning (edited just a tad): “Super pretty and sexy but still sweet. Everybody loves her because she is nice to everyone. Doesn’t seem to know how gorgeous she is. A very strong person still she is really gentle, kind and loving. Guys can’t stop staring. This girl has got it all, but the best thing about her is she doesn’t act like it. Beautiful, sexy, talented, trustworthy, caring and kind.” This…this is pretty much Huppert’s Michele though, because of how she is, the film is much darker as well.
This film transcends genres. I’m not even sure what to call it. It’s dramatic. But it can be funny at times. It’s satirical. It can be hard to watch. A black comedy with rape? I mean it can be all of these. The rape is very much a part of this film and you can’t escape it – no matter how disgusting it may be.
The movie starts off with rape as Michele is assaulted by a masked man who broke into her house. She lives alone – she’s a divorcee with a grown son who is gone. After the rape she cleans up the mess, cleans herself off, and goes on her way. Why? Why does she not call someone right away? Why does she not call the police? Ahhhh…there are good reasons. But as the film starts right away with this scene it immediately makes you wonder.
Michele does finally confide in her best friend/business partner, the business partner’s husband, and Michele’s ex-husband over a dinner. They are shocked. Michele shrugs it off. She does not want to be the victim. It’s because of her past – which comes up throughout the film. Michele has horrors in her life and the sins of the past very much live in her present. She cannot escape them…and people remember the horror that was inflicted. It his her cause célèbre whether she likes it or not.
Michele and her best friend/business partner Anna (Anne Consigny) own a video game company that has released some successful games in the past. It is a weird fit – Michele and this company – but she makes it work. Even with her employees who think they know games better than her, she lets them know who is boss. When her attacker makes it known that he is continuing to watch her, the mystery is on. Is it someone she works with? Someone from the past? Someone close by? It’s hard to say. Michele never lets her guard down. She is a powerful woman and will work to try and figure it out. She’s not out for revenge. She’s not out to have the person arrested. Most of all she is a woman who will not stop being her because of things that are out of her control.
The film becomes a guessing game while also being a family drama. Drama with her older mother, drama with her son who is about to become a father, and the hussy he shacked up with. Will Michele find out who her attacker is? Will he attack again? How will it all play out? Is Michele a good person? She does things that you will find out may not make her the best person. But does she deserve what happens to her? This is a film that GLUES you to the screen.
The movie is a mystery because who the attacker is remains in play. But it is not Michele’s obsession. And she is not out for revenge. She’s not like female Death Wish Dirty Harry. Her life is defined by her past and present and events will not alter her future. And because of this, when the attacker becomes known, the movie just goes places I never thought possible.
This movie is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. It is one of the best movies from last year and I only wish Sony Pictures Classics had promoted it a bit more. If this was on my radar I might have seen it in theaters. But between Elle and Equity, Sony Pictures Classics killed it last year for me.
Huppert won a bunch of awards for her role including a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama and a César Award . Again – she was up for an Academy Award which she didn’t win. They gave it to Emma Stone. You watch this movie. You watch Elle or you watch Florence Foster Jenkins…and then you watch La La Land…and you please…PLEASE…tell me how Emma “won” that Oscar over Huppert (or Streep)?
It’s bullshit. Because Huppert’s performance kicks the crap out of that lame coffee shop girl who just wants to make it in Hollywood.
THIS was an Oscar worthy performance.
The special features here are sparse but what they actually give you is pretty good. There is about an eleven minute featurette on the making of the film that features both Verhoeven and Huppert talking about their mindset in making the film. It talks about the original book (in French), the man who wrote the screenplay (in English), and Verhoeven’s decision to then make it a French film. It’s pretty in-depth and pretty damn interesting.
As I said before I feel like a complete idiot for not knowing of Huppert before but I really got to know her as the Blu-ray also includes AFI’s Tribute to Huppert which is basically a 30 minute interview taped in front of a crowd with a moderator from The Hollywood Reporter. It was really great learning all about Huppert and I came away from that very long interview with an even better appreciation. Couple the interview with the performance and I truly want to seek out more of her movies. She’s that good on and off screen.
There’s also a trailer. Which I like. And there’s no commentary. Which I like. Because I dislike film commentaries.
I’m not really sure what else there is to say. The film is incredible. The performances are incredible. You won’t guess the plot. It’ll stay with you long after you’ve watched it. So watch it.
SPECIAL FEATURES: A