Directed by Paul Verhoeven (2016)
Amazingly this is the first Verhoeven film I've seen since I was a young pup home for the summer from college, watching "Robocop" with a couple of doofus friends because, well, those are the kinds of movies I'd go see at the age of 18. Consequently anything with his name attached to it - "Showgirls", "Total Recall", whatever - has always fallen into the oh I know I'll hate that camp, and despite much frothing in some quarters of my friendship sphere for "Starship Troopers" 20-some-odd years ago, I still feel vindicated in my informed ignorance of his work.
This hasn't much to do with "ELLE", his newest, because this is not a Paul Verhoeven film, near as I can tell, despite him being the fella directing it. This is an Isabelle Huppert film, full-stop, all the way, no question at all. I haven't let anyone's review of this thing pollute what I think about it, not yet - I'll read all of those after I pound this out. It's a film that brought back much of the same transgressive, is-she-really-up-for-this-role creepiness I felt when I saw her in Michael Haneke's "The PIANO TEACHER" way back in 2001. Huppert just thrives playing these ambiguously terrifying, nasty and sexually messed-up characters, and despite her being the ostensible "victim" (of rape) in "Elle", it's her character, named Michèle Leblanc, that in many ways is the most ambitiously awful of many salacious characters in the film, potentially even including her rapist.
Because the film starts with the rape in question, and because Michèle somewhat "shakes it off" yet harbors some revenge fantasies as well as a desire to find the guy, there's a constant tension throughout as we wait for the slow reveal of who this person actually is. She can't go to the police - why, because her jailed father just happens to be France's most notorious serial killer of the 1970s (!!), and she's "had enough of police". Her eightysomething mother is Botoxing and paying younger men for sex. Her ne'er-do-well son has just had a baby with a domineering girlfriend, and he won't recognize that the nearly-brown baby's almost certainly not his. Oh - and Michèle is sleeping with her best friend's Ana husband, despite running a video game company with her best friend Ana during the day, and being nearly inseparable soul sisters with her otherwise.
This is where I start to detect a little Verhoeven, the guy who made the much-blathered-about "Showgirls", which I've never seen. So as preposterous as this all sounds - and believe me, you haven't seen anything yet - what ultimately saves the film is Huppert, Huppert, Huppert. She's her usual steely-eyed self even at her most hideously self-sabotaging. Ultimately, she's in control, and she always wins. It's difficult in the end to determine who's more messed-up: her, or her rapist. She calls their relationship, such that it is, "sick and twisted", and I think that's pretty fair.
She's also never not on camera, and that's a good thing. Her acting elevates every film she's in at least a star or two, sometimes more, and her sheer talent for debasing herself & for making me flat-out uncomfortable (not just me - this film has more than a few walk-outs in the theater in which I saw it) tells me (again) that she's on a different plane than other actresses.
If you saw "The Piano Teacher" - or "Ma Mère", or "Gabrielle", or "The School of Flesh" - you know this character of hers. If you can handle it, and if you like that, then you'll probably like this. I still need to think about it a little.