Elle Screen 54 articles



Elle Poster
  • It exists not to be watched but to be described, summarized, pieced together, because in terms of its action, its characters, its situations, it doesn’t exist except as a pile of tropes and clichés that have neither a material nor a symbolic identity but solely a string of simplistic causes and programmed responses. Verhoeven’s ostensible view of freedom is that of a trivialized psychology dancing on the strings of a screenwriting puppet master.

  • How do we reconcile the two vastly different films that make up Elle? On some level, one could say this is consistent with the experience of living with trauma... There is the additional issue of the rape scenes themselves, which suggest the possibility that Michèle enjoys some part of her violation. This is a complex and murky issue, and... I’ll note the problem of the unresolved tonal difference between the bouncier scenes of Michèle’s quotidian life and the film’s blunt sexual violence.

  • Whether it's the anti-imperialist bent of "Starship Troopers," the Nazi love story "Black Book," or the warped feminist stance found here, Verhoeven rarely fails at taking some modicum of familiar material and transforming it into a shrewder treatise on the boundaries of political correctness. In the case of "Elle," Verhoeven has crafted a defiant tale about the ultimate antidote for fear lying in the ability to turn it into something else.

  • At a certain point very near the end, everything suddenly seemed to coalesce, and I was ready to embrace Elle as a seriously fucked-up but potent ode to embracing one’s true self, however grotesque that self might be. The last 10 minutes or so, however, take the movie in a different direction, one that I’m having trouble reconciling with various elements that seem pretty crucial.

  • The movie itself is most notable, like many of the director’s films, for its sly, fundamentally playful approach towards serious, even contentious issues; its main flaw, due to its rather eventful narrative, is that it sometimes feels a little contrived. But with such a poised and meticulously detailed lead performance at its heart, rich in ambiguities and resonant overtones, the film is not only consistently compelling but pleasingly thought-provoking.

  • While it could surely be regarded as a female empowerment narrative, it’s one that practically spits in the face of what we’ve come to expect of said narratives, with Verhoeven opting for an approach so complicated and risky that I’m tempted it resist squeezing it all into so few words; this is a movie, if there ever was one, requiring essay- and book-length analyses rather than film reviews.

  • Make no mistake, the comedy is dark, but Michèle, who’s at least as damaged as everyone around her, takes control, or at least as much control as the ambivalence of her desire allows. Elle walks the sexual-politics tightrope with sophistication and wit, largely thanks to Huppert. It is, at the least, a movie worth arguing about—and seeing again.

  • This much can be said: there is nothing exploitative or unserious about the film’s psychological sketch of rape’s fallout, which involves complex variables of childhood trauma, how that can play out sexually as a desire to relive same, and a lot of other stuff I’m not qualified to talk about. Huppert is perfect in an enormously complex part, and the film is overstuffed with other threads that, while fascinating on their own, make the generally energizing whole feel a bit bloated.

  • Huppert is spellbinding as the icy, licentious victim; she seems to be daring the viewer to dislike her character, but the woman's mettle and barbed wit produce the opposite effect. Verhoeven masterfully stretches the suspense, and his gallows humor lands most of the time. His attempts at edginess slide into exploitation, though, as he entertains the notion that women might enjoy sexual assault and even deserve it.

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    Film Comment: Molly Haskell
    November 03, 2016 | November/December 2016 Issue (pp. 38-41)

    I got hold of the book after I'd seen the movie and only then began to appreciate its particular weirdness. Appreciate, that is, without mustering anything like the critical enthusiasm that greeted the Dutch maestro's latest turbocharged thriller at Cannes. Movies are visceral and rape is rape; the sight of a masked intruder brutally violating a woman has a tendency to short-circuit the more contemplative parts of the brain.

  • After Michèle has finished jerking off, she wipes herself with a Kleenex which she discards – and Huppert is fantastic here, as if saying “I know it’s not the way it’s done, but I am still doing it, darn it, for it’s a great performative gesture”. I love her at this moment, as she reconnects with all the actresses in the past who have allowed these tiny little breaches between the self and the performance, to express the gap between the way a woman’s part is written and the way a woman acts.

  • The personal priorities of each person—unscrupulous to the point of cheating, violation, and crime—create an imbalanced world of desires, risks and pain. Verhoeven keeps his cards close, but his sharp knife twists in unexpected ways... As with the best filmmakers, Verhoeven's sinister and, of course, provocative new film asks more than it answers. It lays out the board, hazardous with abrupt violence, comic traps and ironic, sly motivations—and is very game to play.

  • It’s all quite perverse for sure, which of course is no surprise coming from either the actress or the director, though what’s welcome about Elle is the way they combine their talents to make a film that hardly skimps on the sex, violence and sadism, yet ultimately tells a story about how one woman uses them all to set herself free.

  • Knowingly incendiary but remarkably cool-headed, and built around yet another of Isabelle Huppert’s staggering psychological dissections, Paul 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.

  • The Cannes Film Festival saved the best for last: Paul Verhoeven's Elle is an ingenuously constructed drama that roots all of its complexities in matters of character... Michéle refuses to become a victim for fear of being stripped of her own defining sense of self, just as Verhoeven's maverick Elle insists on realizing its central character through bold eccentricities as a means of giving specific experience to a dehumanizing act.

  • It would be unimaginable without Huppert, who delivers a performance of such virtuosity that she turns what is essentially a raving sociopath into one of the most alluring protagonists in recent memory. Beautiful, refined, fiercely intelligent, and twisted to the core, her character is a synecdochic encapsulation of the film itself.

  • For me, Elle is perhaps the smartest, most honest and empowering film about rape I’ve ever seen — because while it's about damage, it's also about resilience and how whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Say what you will about Michele, but in many ways she's a role model for menopausal women everywhere. You can keep Helen Mirren in her action-granny films (Eye in the Sky, the Red franchise, etc.). When I grow up (I have 12 years to go), I want to be Isabelle Huppert in Elle.

  • Like his earlier Black Book (2006), the director’s latest is a vivid, sincere attempt to reconcile difficult, disturbing themes without sacrificing his acerbic humor or unflinching interest in the psychological paradoxes that underlie certain social codes. For a filmmaker who so often leaves little to the imagination, Verhoeven has with Elle not only left the door open to interpretation—he’s turned ambiguity into a weapon all its own.

  • Huppert is as good as she’s ever been in Elle as, yes, a woman who comes to enjoy being raped. But as it’s a Verhoeven movie, things are much more complicated than that: Huppert’s Michèle is a complex character indeed. Elle is a full-blown feminist film, fully immersing itself in the ambiguous actions of a grounded, divorced, strong businesswoman...

  • [It involves] a push-pull mind game of domination and submission and an exploration of sadomasochistic desire that ranks with Blue Velvet in its black-comic audacity... Verhoeven is often called a misanthrope, but it may be more accurate to consider him a gleeful connoisseur of human psychopathology; it is hardly a surprise that Elle, a veritable encyclopedia of wayward impulses and desires, is also his most playful and tender film.

  • Verhoeven’s brisk direction is so assured, striking just the right note between erotic thriller and campy comedy, and Huppert is so obviously ideal for the part of an icy, manipulative corporate woman who can only derive sexual satisfaction from acting out rape scenarios, that the film is supremely enjoyable from start to finish.

  • As skillfully and flawlessly acted by Huppert, who at this point can seemingly do no wrong with a halfway decent part, Michèle is one of the strongest and strangest movie characters in a long time. Working from a surprisingly witty and literate script by David Birke—whose previous credits on Gacy (2003) and Freeway Killer (2010) didn’t exactly prepare us for this—Verhoeven has finessed Philippe Djian’s 2012 novel into a hybrid comeback vehicle for himself and a showcase for Huppert

  • It may not offer the unabashed trashiness of films like that one, Robocop, and Showgirls, but, in its own relatively restrained way, it is just as provocative in its attempts to explore disturbing moral ambiguities. To watch Elle is to be perpetually unsure of how to take its alternately sympathetic and unfathomable main character. In other words, it’s Paul Verhoeven at the height of his artistic powers.

  • Whether it was working with a strange crew in a strange land or the decade-long gap between features, Verhoeven has come to Elle refreshed, even renewed. Directors in their later years often settle comfortably into their preoccupations, doodling happily around the edges of their previous careers. Verhoeven is still trying to make masterpieces, and with Elle, he comes awfully close.

  • From the very first image, in which the main character’s brutal violation is reflected in the slit-eyed gaze of her pet cat, it’s obvious that the Dutch veteran has lost none of his knack for provocation. Yet what’s surprising is the calm, even elegance with which his camera surveys a traumatic situation, a contradiction perfectly attuned to the blazing-steely intensity of Isabelle Huppert’s Michèle.

  • Michèle has learned to turn misogyny into a mockery by either subjecting it to her regulatory eye at work, or using it as a disposable sex toy whose expiration date is entirely up to her... To have her enjoy its very epitome—what is rape but the culmination of naturalized misogyny?—would seem nonsensical, which is why Elle is so fascinating, and bold. This is a film that isn't afraid to inhabit the maddening ambivalence of pleasure, recognizing that desire simply doesn't recognize good manners.

  • There are times when you feel Verhoeven’s taste for the lurid might overwhelm one’s sympathies but it never happens. Indeed the extraordinary Huppert (she has never been better, and that’s saying something), and the very able French cast around her, do much cooling of the temperature as to make the whole thing feel quite plausible in a way that, say, Basic Instinct never does. It’s easily the most impressive and important psychological thriller I’ve seen this century.

  • It's a flawlessly orchestrated mess, which is to say it’s an almost perfect movie about the clusterfuck of the human emotional spectrum. It was the best film I saw at Fantastic Fest and may very well be the best film of the year... Like the other great work I saw in Austin last month, its form and genre-trappings are nothing more than the raw material for a complicated, honest work of art.

  • The movie hangs tenuously by its manicured fingernails to European art cinema... Elle is a hybrid of Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (1989) and The Piano Teacher (2001), borrowing Almodovar’s rape victim fascinated with her rapist and Haneke’s masochistic ice queen, also played by Huppert. Elle will intrigue and amuse some viewers and disgust others.

  • I doubt I'll ever [feel] unequivocal ardor for the filmmaker... But Elle reveals a brilliant strategy on Verhoeven's part: He cedes the authorial stamp of the film to its indomitable star, Isabelle Huppert, playing the video-game exécutrice who is violated in the movie's opening seconds. Motored, as many Verhoeven films are, by multiple ambiguities, Elle would be an obscenity without the actress's typically hyper-alert performance.

  • Even by the out-there standards of Basic Instinct and Showgirls, Paul Verhoeven’s latest, Elle, is a thing to behold. Part thriller, part obsidian-black comedy, part cerebral firebomb, it’s confrontational, terrible and glorious. You almost can’t believe such a picture exists.

  • It’s become a cliché of art films: the traumatic act of violence whose blank non-acknowledgement is a putative structuring absence that recasts banalities in a light of alienation or unsettlement and so on. But that’s too simplistic for Paul Verhoeven... He's found a way to merge dark satirical wit with a taste for excesses of sex and violence. Elle is a challenging film, but challenging precisely because it’s entertaining, because it’s laugh-out-loud funny, because it indulges its kinks.

  • How you feel about this brutal, elegantly crafted film will depend in part on whether you regard nihilism as a moral/political philosophy or as a film language that gets us to rethink the tired pieties that appeal to our vanity. A provocateur to his core, Verhoeven wades breezily into hot-potato territory, all the while refusing moral judgment.

  • There's always some element of mystery left intact in Huppert's work. Huppert can be frighteningly blank ("The Piano Teacher," "La Cérémonie"), she can be human and flawed ("Amour," and the upcoming "Things to Come"). In "Elle" she gets to be funny, and it's such a joy to watch! It's effortless for her. She's funny in her line-readings, in her gestures and expressions. You cannot take your eyes off of her.

  • The film quickly establishes a tone that’s as deeply foreboding as it is deliciously campy: the string-heavy score recalls erotic thrillers of yore, while the cool renderings of bourgeois interiors feel reminiscent of Claude Chabrol. For a movie that begins as a whodunit, Michele’s assailant is unmasked relatively quickly, a narrative move that allows Elle to evolve into something much more darkly complex as she becomes increasingly complicit in the repeated attacks.

  • If this impossible, indecently entertaining movie tips the discussion at all, it may be due to the sheer force of personality and artistic will exerted by its leading lady, to the point where the words “a film by Paul Verhoeven” start to seem both deceptive and inadequate. By the end, vengeance may belong to Michèle Leblanc, but you emerge from “Elle” struggling for the words to do Isabelle Huppert justice.

  • There’s no room for mercy when it comes to the carnal realities of instinctual pleasure. One of the most rigorous and daring movies of the year, Elle provides a cinematic space for “nasty” women to be themselves.

  • With tailored suits and an elegant home, Michèle seems the very picture of success, but Huppert’s withering stare and Mona Lisa smile suggest darkness beneath the surface. Elle may raise feminist debate, but it’s hard to deny that Huppert maintains a sly, consistently intriguing power throughout.

  • Huppert's performance is a clear case of actress as auteur, and most recent criticism that looks at this as a rape film by men—the sharp script by David Birke is based on a novel by Philippe Djian—overlooks that. Huppert as Michèle is our guide through rape’s heart of darkness. Her scenes confronting her rapist intellectually are among the best in her obscenely illustrious career.

  • A masterpiece of contradictions and inversions. Every character is shown to be or to have something other than what we first know about them. No single frame of this film appears wildly original in a modular or granular way, and yet I don't know that I've seen another movie like it.

  • Simultaneously a Buñuelian satire of the bourgeoisie and a Chabrolian thriller of manners, Elle is ultimately wholly Verhoeven's own in its play with the limits of sexual delight and all of its irreconcilable contradictions.

  • It's startling and precise, an arrow to the skull. Mordant wit and twisted joy come with Verhoeven’s level of control... Huppert picks up an ax and eyes it coolly before rejecting it in favor of a plain-old handgun. Verhoeven has been hackish in the past. Not this time. So much slow cinema in one festival starts to seem conservative, making a film with a killer screenplay like David Birke’s, where everything is in place, look as backward-glancing and futuristic as Total Recall.

  • The titular businesswoman, played rivetingly by Isabella Huppert, wilfully plays into the hands of male lust and entitlement, but never do we doubt her resolve against its worst effects on her security and fraught family history. And even better, it’s hilarious – the Forum Theatre audience had a ball, thanks to the shrewd writing.

  • This is vintage Verhoeven, to be sure, and it's certainly the more provocative of these two films. If visceral, unflinching, sly provocation are what you're principally after in cinema, it's the better film, too. But Things to Come is the wiser, deeper, more lived-in portrait.

  • Paul Verhoeven, making his first narrative feature in a decade, may be credited as the director of this constantly bewildering, obsidian-black comedy about a video-game exécutrice who gets revenge — sort of — on the man who rapes her. But the film would be an obscenity without the authorial stamp of Isabelle Huppert, its indomitable, hyper-alert star.

  • I did not see this so much as a “rape movie” than an ultramodern career-woman picture in which the situations the protagonist had to contend with were turned up to eleven in the dicey department. In other words, a Paul Verhoeven picture. Young filmmakers who go “too far” are sometimes credited with audacity; Verhoeven has nursed his own filmmaking character into a not-unreflective-perversity. He and Isabelle Huppert find near-perfect partners in crime with each other.

  • Verhoeven’s reshuffling of life-long obsessions, the seemingly inextricable tie between sex and violence, the danger inherent in religious faith and so on is, in Elle, both thrilling and confusing. Mind game of the year, hands down.

  • It's a daring look at a woman who is not like most women in movies -- not merely because of how she handles the rape that opens the film -- but because of the way she talks, considers her actions, indulges her fantasies, excites her cruelty, reflects on her so extraordinary backstory that, in another movie, would seem easy and ridiculous (as in, "Oh, so this is why she's so weird...").

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    Film Comment: Margaret Barton-Fumo
    January 03, 2017 | January/February 2017 Issue (p. 46)

    Huppert's portrayal of Michèle, who happens to be the daughter of a serial killer, is both nuanced and alarmingly curt... The fact that Michèle orders sushi after being raped has been much commented upon—how strange, what nerve!—when the most telling aspect of Huppert's performance is that she doesn't cry, except when a bird smashes into her window.

  • A jet-black comedy and discomfiting morality tale that validates once again the perversion, daring and sophistication of Paul Verhoeven's vision... Equally crucial to the film is the slippery genius of star Isabelle Huppert, who turns in a performance that withstands any easy actorly tricks to inhabit the mind and body of a person who can't be adequately pigeonholed as either victim, debauchee, or Strong Female Lead.

  • Something Wild and Elle stand out among their peers by not offering easy answers to these impossible questions, but instead asking viewers to empathize through the acutely observed complexities of two women who both have to live with rape.

  • The movie both succumbs to and rises above the rhetorical positions and derision tossed at it, and delivers perhaps the year’s most biting satire, a film unafraid of its complexity and hard to pin-down characters and events.

  • Verhoeven deftly sketches a social milieu that is part Chabrol (due to Huppert's presence) and part Buñuel: under the pleasant façade of 'sophisticated' bourgeois manners lie perverse power games and secret double lives. Distinct from the more detached 'ensemble view' favoured by those directors, Verhoeven and his screenwriter tell this complex tale by closely observing the enigmatic, ever-surprising behaviour of Michèle, who is among the most memorable screen creations of the past decade.

  • Brimming with razor-sharp dialogue, mostly delivered by Huppert with malicious glee, Elle busies itself with mocking middle-class problems such as parking, adultery, and ungracefully ageing parents. Verhoeven has cited The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel, 1972) as a key influence, and Elle similarly capitalises on the dramatic possibilities of the dinner-party scene.

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