Taboo subject cinema that isn’t that revolting, but I just happen to think it’s bonkers. Elle (France, in English subtitles) is a steely, career-driven woman who gets raped in the first scene and then responds in the aftermath in a very atypical way. This woman runs a video game company that specializes in violent games – the computer graphics imagery is the most disturbing part of the movie – and she has reason to believe that her rapist is close to her, possibly internal in her company. Stepping back, is the uproar surrounding the movie because here’s a woman that can take rape? She’s not behaving in denial, in fact, you wonder if she takes it as an impromptu challenge to find and retaliate somehow. Like burrow inside the rapist’s mind if she can get close again. Or power-trip on her mother, her neighbors, her employees as a coping mechanism to continue on with life. Heck, you could conjecture on and on with why she does what she does, yet I don’t know that gets any viewer anywhere closer to enlightenment.
Elle doesn’t call the cops, crucially, like ever. There are many reasons why women don’t report rapes, but her reason is quite anomalous – it turns out Elle was the daughter of a serial killer from forty years ago, the father went around the neighborhood and killed many men, women and children as well as dogs. Elle has spent her life evading any unsavory publicity. This should be compelling history to affect the present. But Paul Verhoeven, the director (this is his first film since “Black Book” nearly ten years ago), lays down story threads that don’t necessarily interconnect to anything. “Elle” is high-minded and cerebral, allegedly, just for having subtitles. But it’s really like Verhoeven’s trashy 1992 thriller “Basic Instinct” – which at least holds up as watchable trash – in which a risk-taker protagonist carries on a salacious relationship with a likely dangerous person.
Bonkers, I say again. Yet what makes the film bearable is the incomparable Isabelle Huppert, an actress who is no stranger to fending off wicked plots (my favorite film of hers is “Home” from 2010, although she is more famous for “The Piano Teacher” and “White Material”). Huppert does the impossible by making this nearly impossible to believe character believable. But you still have to strain through expository scenes that don’t amount to anything (Elle’s mother’s penchant for gigolos), supporting characters whom are fiendishly absurd (take Elle’s idiot grown-up son or his girlfriend, for instance), and general unpleasantness. Four stars for Huppert’s performance, but really, this is a story I could not believe in or care about.
132 Minutes. Rated R. French in English subtitles.
FOREIGN FILM / FOOD FOR THOUGHT / LATE NIGHT TABOO
Film Cousins: “Basic Instinct” (1992); “The Piano Teacher” (2002, France); “Cache” (2005, France); “Black Book” (2007, Netherlands).