Sometimes there are obstacles in making a film that could and should be a sign that something isn’t working. For Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Hollow Man) the fact he couldn’t communicate with the French actors, that every top actress from Cate Blanchett to Nicole Kidman refused the project might have been a sign. France’s official submission for the 2017 Academy Awards (a mistake in my opinion), Elle is a psycho sexual thriller that plays out like a fetish soap opera. Huppert (I Heart Huckabees, Louder than Bombs), on some best actress short lists, continues playing her trademark emotionless, yet independent, sexually aware female. When it’s functioning as a “whose doing it” thriller it works at its best, but more often it’s trying to tackle scenarios even the script appears unable to put meaning behind.

Michèle Leblanc (Huppert) suffered a tragic event in her childhood, she questions whether those events and the monster her father became has influenced her life choices. Divorced, mother of an immature adult, Michèle manages a video game design company with great friction from the young innovative minds working under her guidance. Recently she was assaulted and raped in her home, refusing to report the indecent to the police. She is also having an affair with her best friend’s husband while simultaneously trying to push her ex-husbands girlfriend out of the picture. She is extremely spiteful to her HIV positive, plastic surgery obsessed mother who has a paid live in young boy toy. Michèle has become obsessed with the neighbor next door, married to a religious purist. She leads a busy life juggling work and social activities, but the new fear she has experienced since her attack excites all her senses.

Elle is a frustrating experience that flirts with notions of various genres, ultimately finding itself completely shut out of any substantial appeal or worse reason.

In hindsight, could a script so comfortable with sex, be made anywhere else but France? Verhoeven is never able to make a point with all the activity going on in Elle. I kept waiting for some message, but Michèle’s multiple personalities, depending on which scene she’s in, muddles any realism this character might offer. I didn’t find Huppert’s performance neither astounding or disagreeable, it’s exactly what we have some to expect from one of France’s most daring and prolific modern actors. The rest of the cast, mostly young men, swirl around our leading lady for her sexual appetite. The only time Michèle shows any emotion is during the rape, but afterward she continues as if it’s a normal occurrence, same with car crashes, death of a parent, or becoming a grandmother. It’s a consistent performance, memorable because of her thematic situations but not because of its effective power.

Intrigue is the fumes on which Elle sustains itself almost to the ending. Thrills are what it lacks, and that’s ironic considering what this character endures and faces in just over two hours. The rapist identity is the films biggest mystery, unfortunately one tiny little moment early on gives this away. The screenplay does offer evidence why it could be any number of men around Michèle, however the big reveal which the climax is geared toward is a major let down. Elle is a frustrating experience that flirts with notions of various genres, ultimately finding itself completely shut out of any substantial appeal or worse reason.

Final Thought

A trashy psycho sexual thriller disguised as a distinguished French drama.


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