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Elle(2016)
Written by: The Arrow
Director: Paul Verhoeven

Starring:
Isabelle Huppert/Michele
Christian Berkel/Robert
Anne Consigny/Anna
Virginie Efira/Rebecca
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PLOT-CRUNCH
Michele (Isabelle Huppert), a successful video game executive is raped by a masked assailant. She goes about dealing with that violation and finding out who is behind it in... ummm... euh... distinctive ways! That's it! Distinctive! Lets go with that!
THE LOWDOWN

You know what I’ve always worshipped about PAUL VERHOEVEN? He has a pair of big bulldog balls when it comes to cinema. You look at his pre-Hollywood stuff and at his pre Hollow Man work and there’s no denying it – dude doesn’t give a f*ck and I love him for it. You can’t put him in a box and even when dealing in mainstream genres (like Sci-Fi), he strives for MUCH further than the norm. Although I was saddened when he left La La Land after the Studio conflict he had on HOLLOW MAN, I am pleased that he’s still creating and that he has found a milieu (big word there, I know) that allows him be the unhinged artist that he is. Which brings me to his latest flick ELLE (Based on Philippe Djian’s novel named “Oh...”), his first French picture.

In true Verhoeven fashion, the lad took an initial premise that could have been Death Wish with a dame but opted to go in counter-cliché directions with it. So if you’re thinking that you’re going into a 1,2, 3 rape/revenge thriller with this one, hold on to your G-Strings, cause that’s not what you’re going to get. WIth its bold exploration of lust, perversions, animal instinct and unorthodox female empowerment, tagged with a potent whodunit, this was definitely a “what the frick am I watching” type of experience... but in a good way! The film slyly went out of its way to play against my expectations and every time I thought it would go one way, it would bitch-slap me and go in a totally different direction. In a gutsy move, 85% of the folks in this film were unlikable on paper, had some kind of negative “thing” going for them and were devoid of feelings/empathy for his/her fellow man. They all acted in selfish, moral-less and erratic manners... our lead dame included!

I was wowed by how our “victim, yet, non-victim” heroine was handled. I adored that no matter what happened to her, she seemed in complete control of the situation. Although raped and wanting payback for it – she took that negative and turned into a positive by grasping the opportunity that the aggression gave her, to explore her own sexual fetishes. Warped stuff! Now all of this wouldn’t have gone down so well if it was played completely straight, but a thick layer of cynical and bleak humor coated the whole hence making the dysfunctional and vile happenings go down smoother than a Coke and a Smile. The manner in which sexuality was addressed (Masturbation, rape, domination/submission, infidelity, bisexuality and was that a hint of incest I caught there?) was Verhoeven definitely back to his The Fourth Man (1983) days. And it should be stabbed that the theme of “men being threatened by women who dig sex and who like being the aggressor” definitely rang out loud and clear in a novel way while clocking this one! Somewhat reminded me of Verhoeven's Basic Instinct.

Huge props to Isabelle Huppert who was not only gorgeous as ever but probably gave the performance of her career. The lass put out a brave and unflinching show as the cold, calculating, strong, sexy and independent businesswoman. Refreshingly, there was no hand-holding in terms of “understanding” her character and her “out there” motivations. I was left on my own to figure it all out and relied on Huppet’s subtle facial expressions (all about them eyes), body language and of course her character’s left field actions to grasp what the bleep was happening in that noggin of hers. Add to all a “cinema verite” visual style that served the subject matter well, Verhoeven's obsession with Christianity seeping in once again (if you never read his atheist's take on Christ book, you should, fascinating stuff) and in your face sex/violence and you get an odd, brash and unrepentant affair. As I type this drivel I’m still thinking about what I just saw and trying to decipher exactly what it all meant. Nice!

If I had one qualm to spew, it would be that the movie was a tad too long for its own good. A good 10-15 minutes could have been chopped off (maybe there was one subplot too many), but hey, what do I know. Moreover the maddeningly pussy-whipped son character had my backhand tingling like crazy, but that was the point I guess, so not a true peeve, just a random statement. If you dig on your old school Verhoeven and like to soak in films that take wild swings and don’t play by the rules – than ELLE may be for you!

GORE
We get a head bashing, a stabbing and vicious rape scenes.
T & A
We get two full nude gals, some dudes asses (didn't count them) and Huppert topless/butt shot (mostly in non arousing situations).
BOTTOM LINE
What can I say? Verhoeven is back to his old provocateur, sexually charged and unapologetic tricks but with a French flavor and bleak/cynical humor sprinkled about to boot! ELLE made for quite the loopy ride! It kept going in directions I didn't anticipate, Isabelle Huppert was hypnotizing and the compassion-less nature of pretty much every character here would have grated me if it weren’t laid out with all kinds of dark comedy behind it. This was a female empowerment effort that’s for sure, a woman who refuses to lose control, even after being violated, and the daring way Verhoeven went about it somewhat blew my mind! Yeah the thing was a bit too long for my liking but overall I freaking loved it! Any film that has my one brain cell work, work and work, even after the end credits were finito means it did its motherf*cking job!
BULL'S EYE
The film was Verhoeven's first feature since 2006's Black Book.

Verhoeven had this to say about making Elle: "Something very different to anything I've done before. This stepping into the unknown, I think it’s very important in the life of an artist. It puts you in an existential mode. As an artist you have to, as much as possible, step into the unknown and see what happens to you."

Huppert was a longtime fan of Verhoeven. She called him "one of the best directors in the world for me".
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