Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven, always known for pushing boundaries, had initially planned to adapt Philippe Dijan’s novel in Hollywood, but couldn’t because of its incendiary script. Hence he switched to the original French setting instead, and the result was Elle, a work of such extraordinary assuredness and maturity – despite the theme of sexual violence, this was diametrically removed from his earlier brand of pulpy thrillers – that it heavily reminded me of Chabrol and Haneke. Admittedly, that was amplified by the presence of the irresistible Isabelle Huppert, in a performance blazing with icy demeanour and simmering sensuality which she so memorably portrayed in movies like Violette Nozière, La Cérémonie and The Piano Teacher; that she played such a daring role at the age of 63 speaks volumes of her audacity. Michèle, the proprietress of a risqué video-game company, is a woman who loves to be in control and exudes command in her relationships. At office, she’s both despised and fantasized by her male subordinates; outside work, she toys with the men in her life – her emotionally weak son (Jonas Bloquet), her melancholic ex-husband (Charles Berling), and the infatuated spouse (Christian Berkel) of her best friend (Anne Consigny) with whom she’s having an affair. And she’s haunted by memories of her mass murderer father incarcerated for life. The eerie and delicate placidity of her bourgeois existence, however, is shaken upon being raped by a masked man – the film starts with this disturbing sequence – and more so when, upon finding out that her rapist is her seemingly mild-mannered but twisted much younger neighbor (Laurent Lafitte), she embarks on an unsettling game of sexual one-upmanship with him which is sure to end horribly.
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller