Panorama | Special Presentations | Spotlight on France
No stranger to controversy, Dutch icon and former Hollywood bad boy Paul Verhoeven, now 78, has made a brilliant comeback with a dramatic comedy that’s sure to ignite many a vociferous, high-volume discussion. The magnificent Isabelle Huppert takes centre stage here as Michèle, the tough-minded CEO of a videogame label specializing in sex and violence, who we first encounter mid-rape in her apartment. (The fact that, in the aftermath, she calmly goes about her day is our first hint that we are in uncharted cinematic waters.) A woman very much used to getting her own way, there is little doubt that Michèle will exact revenge. She just needs to find out which of the many candidates around her—among them, neighbour Patrick (Laurent Lafitte), ex-lover Richard (Charles Berling) and current lover Robert (Christian Berkel), who just happens to be the husband of her best friend—is responsible for the attack. Along the way, the zingers fly (courtesy of a very sharp script by David Birke), perversities are unearthed and put on display, the darkly comic is wedded to high melodrama, and Huppert turns in one the greatest performances of her long and illustrious career.
“A possible career high for Paul Verhoeven… You’ve never seen a rape-revenge fantasy quite like Elle… Knowingly incendiary but remarkably cool-headed, and built around yet another of Isabelle Huppert’s staggering psychological dissections, [Verhoeven’s] long-awaited return to notional genre filmmaking pulls off a breathtaking bait-and-switch: Audiences arriving for a lurid slab of arthouse exploitation will be taken off-guard by the complex, compassionate, often corrosively funny examination of unconventional desires that awaits them.”—Guy Lodge, Variety