Bet you never thought you’d see the words ‘rape revenge comedy’ in the one sentence to describe a film? Well, you probably weren’t considering Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Showgirls). Coupled with Isabelle Huppert, Elle is a visceral and unstoppable force that will suck you in from start to finish.
Huppert plays Michele, an incredibly successful CEO of a computer game company, who lives in a beautiful house in Paris. Not only is she trying to maintain a friendship with her ex-partner Richard (Charles Berling), who is moving on with a much younger woman, she’s also sleeping with her partner Anna’s (Anne Consingy) husband Robert (Christian Berkel) while harbouring feelings for Patrick (Laurent Lafitte), the married Christian man across the road. Oh and supporting her son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) both emotionally and financially, who is dealing with a very irrational and very pregnant girlfriend Josie (Alice Isaaz). So needless to say, she’s got a lot going on.
Elle is a very confronting watch, from the opening scene where we’re thrown headfirst into the rape – it’s the first thing we hear and see and is at the forefront of the entire film. This isn’t the only time we’re exposed to the attack, as it is shown numerous times throughout, from slightly different perspectives. However Michele’s response to the attack is quite unusual; she sweeps up the broken glass, cleans up the mess, has a bath and gets on with her day. Michele doesn’t want to involve the police as she has spent most of her life in the spotlight after her father went on a killing spree when she was a young girl. She’s sick of being in the spotlight and doesn’t want to be the victim anymore, so she takes things into her own hands – she tries to find the rapist herself.
Huppert herself has sworn that Elle is not about a woman ‘accepting her rapist’, nor is it a statement about women being raped, however that sounds like a bit of a cop out? Sure this disturbing film has a lot of ambiguity, but it seems as though it is too simple to make such a blatant disconnect with such glaringly obvious subject matter. That’s not to say that there can’t be several meanings or trains of thought behind the film, but the bottom line is finding the man that raped Michele and discovering just how she really feels about it.
It’s not an easy watch and took days to really sink in, but Elle is definitely a conversation starter and will really get your brain ticking.
Chloe Sesta Jacobs is a people and culture geek who loves writing about film and usually does so with her two miniature sausage dogs lying all over her. Chloe really enjoys world cinema and has been heard to say “if it doesn’t have subtitles, don’t talk to me”. She also tweets a LOT at @csestajacobs.