It certainly has Verhoeven’s black comedic features and enhances his reputation as a provocateur
I think there’s a legit intelligent discussion here on violence in the media
Huppert and the narrative is the show. The narrative absolutely rolls- even more the second time seeing it. And, Isabelle Huppert has rarely been better. I think it may rank second behind Haneke’s the piano teacher (which these two characters share a great deal) as an accomplishment for her. Her work in la ceremonie and white material are there, too. She’s icy, complex, intelligent— she makes a great CEO
Impeccably stylish (pea coats, scarves) in her attire and a Parisian business executive—very rich character—not easy to pin down (sleep’s with her best friends husband, doesn’t really like her mother)
She’s no mere victim—and the film doesn’t really give her an out (even though her traumatic childhood is here in the background)- it doesn’t become the story or a real psychological examination
As much of anything it’s a again, a narrative that entertains and dances with heavy themes. And for anyone who doesn’t think it’s a black comedy—the dinner scene—we have her sitting next to the man who raped her (who she also has masturbated to and is attracted to), the son with the black baby, the best friend with her husband who she is sleeping with), the mother who is with a man like 50 years younger (gigolo), and then the ex-husband with the young new girlfriend. Wow
Incredibly ballsy film and performance/character. Verhoeven and Huppert are a perfect match
So, I thought I’d leave a comment for this one as well. Elle is a film I didn’t really get the first time I watched it. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t get it either. Second time round, things changed a bit. I’m still not crazy over it. But I appreciate it more.
So, the black comedy aspect of the film does work for me a bit, I will admit that. And the only real way the film holds up is if we get into a psychographic analysis of Michelle, which is just perfect for me, but it isn’t enough to love a film. I think that when it was released back in 2016 there was a lot of noise because of the provocateur aspect and because it worked as great vehicle for Huppert. She had been ignored in the US for quite a long time and they were just jumping at the chance to give her an award – which I guess they should? She should’ve swept everything for the Piano Teacher, her or Naomi for Mulholland Drive, but for Elle, I don’t know if the movie is good enough to help her. So, where was I?
I haven’t ever quite loved Verhoeven, but he manages to ingrain a sense of ambiguity in this film and I find that admirable. And it is a movie that challenges us in great, great ways. This is a story of a woman who is raped, and then is shown nonchalantly ordering pizza. And it’s not even for comedic purposes all of the time – the reason it seems odd, is because there are taboos in society regarding rape. There’s also a tendency to place the victim in a position of powerlessness and have them feel exposed for something that they suffered and had nothing to do with. We don’t expect out of a movie to show us that a rape victim can order pizza the same day she was attacked, because we’re subconsciously looking for a reason to further marginalise her. We don’t like to think that something as terrible would ever happen to us, and thereby that we are similar to the victim in any way. So we settle with the idea that she doesn’t really have a normal life, like the rest of the world. And that’s just one of the many concepts Elle challenges. We’re talking about a woman who surrounds herself with men that seem dependent on her – her ex husband, her son, even her lover who doesn’t seem to need her, we soon realise that she effortlessly manipulates. I guess she needs to feel in control considering her past. Sexuality, death, trauma, violence – all these themes are explored so subtly and intelligently. Verhoeven gets us to see them all connecting in the profile of this incredibly complex woman. Film Formula has posted an incredible video essay on YouTube regarding Elle, and I think people should watch it. I don’t like promoting in general (haha) but it is really great work and it gives a lot of insight that puzzled me and got me to see the film in a different light.
That said, Huppert is impeccable and perfect for the role. She pulls off everything it calls for – lust, deception, restraint, complexity, coldness. Very nuanced work, and she deserved all the recognition she got for it (I’m soon going to post my thoughts on the Piano Teacher, as well). I don’t think the movie should’ve won best foreign film at the Globes though. The 2016 Best Actress race was a dodgy one and I know you’re very pro-Emma Stone regarding this. I’m not exactly there, but to be honest I’m not sure if there were many actresses who delivered better work or if I would really take Huppert over her. Time will tell, I suppose.
I generally think that Elle is worth seeing for its eccentricity and the way it provokes its audience. The writing is great, the narrative is impressively good, and the protagonist is one of the most three-dimensional and profoundly complicated women seen throughout the 2010’s. Other than that, it is a strange, strange film and not for everyone. I in fact can’t think of anyone who would love it. I know it intrigued me thematically and intellectually. But I didn’t love it as a film. Interesting.
@Georg– this is a great read- thanks for sharing your thoughts and the detailed analysis here
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