Sunday 13 November 2016

ELLE Review
"Elle" starring Isabelle Huppert
           Director: Paul Verhoeven       

Make no mistake about it, "Elle" is a great film, in the truest sense of the word. It returns substantial dividends over multiple watchings, provokes productive and frequently profound conversations and (no less importantly) fascinating trains of thought. Better than that though, like all true works of art "Elle" does all these things on multiple levels, simultaneously. Like a highly- faceted jewel "Elle" rewards close scrutiny from many angles. Simplistically, "Elle" is the story of  the  female  CEO/founder of a software company which develops and publishes games; as a woman in a very male environment, Elle has developed very thick skin and a self image so armoured that it has become borderline sociopathy. She runs her company the way that Patton ran the third Army. She is either an object of terror or hopeless adoration to the young nerds who work for her.
Unexpectedly (several members of the audience screamed) She is raped, at home, on her living room floor, violently. It is not pretty or "erotic", in fact you should join the front of the queue for castration if you find you like it. So far so normal. In fact to this point "Elle" bares strong resemblances to the standard "cookie cutter" rape schlockers that are almost a fetid genre in their own right. But here "Elle" changes the paradigm; in fact the film grabs it and twists it almost out of recognition, and most unexpectedly, it does it intelligently and with real artistry. Elle does not call the police. After a while she tells her family and friends at a dinner that is rather rich in dark satire for those so inclined. They are surprised by her "no police" stance, but know better than to push their luck by arguing with her. 

So far so good, Elle has gotten her way, but the tension starts to ramp up when she starts getting clues that she is being stalked in her big house with "20-something" windows and its big, dark garden. You can see the skeleton of a conventional thriller here, can't you? But "Elle" has stripped out the conventional from the genre; gone is the handsome and reliable police detective who may be falling romantically for Elle even as he protects her and who can be guaranteed to get the lion's share of the limelight at the climax. Gone are the two uniformed police ordered to protect her "Around the clock" - only to fail (one way or the other) at the last gasp. 

No. Putting it another way "Elle" isn't crap. Elle's  remarkably complicated character is on her own. This realisation is written clearly on her face. It is horrible to see, but she carries on functioning effectively in spite of her fear, in one of the most inspiring characterisations I've ever seen on film. And you can forget the barge-loads of  'gunplay revenge on the man that done her wrong' films that the Americans have been churning out for years - like, for example 'MS.45' aka 'Angel of Vengeance' or more recently 'Nocturnal Animals'.  'Elle' is above all, gloriously realistic, Elle's unique character drives her initial unique decision and as the stresses on her continue, we learn more about her as she learns more about herself and the people around her until to audience is left with a completely faceted and perfectly polished tragic heroine. At the end of the film you feel that you *know* Elle - you may not like her much, but as sure as dammit, you'll respect her, and probably quite a lot and, by extension you may be slightly more forgiving to the hordes of other Elles who inhabit the real world inadvertently (or blithely) offending most of the people they meet, even as reality chews on them and spits them out.

Alex Rieneck