Elle: Not for the faint of heart

Isabelle Huppert’s 2016 movie, Elle, is not for either the faint of heart or for the easily shocked. Directed by Paul Verhoeven, (he of Basic Instinct and RoboCop fame), this is the story of a woman who is looking for the man who raped her. Strewn all along the movie is rich subtext, under the surface character quirks, and over the top world-be-damned behaviour by the protagonist that will leave you asking questions. When this film came out, it instantly divided the world into those who were in awe of it, and those who hated it with a vengeance.

Isabelle Huppert is Elle (French for ‘she’) who works as a top executive in a gaming company that makes games around sex and violence. She is amicably separated from her husband, has a doormat for a son who lets his girlfriend walk all over him, is sleeping with her friend’s husband, and is raped one night in her own apartment. The identity of the rapist is revealed by the third and final act, and it comes as no surprise, but once she has dealt with the rape, Elle goes on to have a sadomasochistic relationship with her married neighbour, where the role play devolves into rape fantasy. How far will she push boundaries?

Is Elle the ultimate feminist who is owning what happens to her, or is this a perverted, sick man’s fantasy playing out on screen? Huppert garnered both adoration and critical acclaim for her portrayal in Elle. The movie is being screened at IFFI 2019, and if you can ignore the obvious provocations of an auteur like Verhoeven, you might want to catch it just to watch Huppert’s magnificent face. But consider yourself warned.

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