Film Review: Elle


Paul Verhoeven’s Elle absorbs, entertains, and intrigues. After a lengthy break, Verhoeven reminds viewers exactly why he is a great filmmaker.

After being attacked in her own home, Michèle seems to get on with her life. As she goes about her busy life, Michèle gets caught in a game of cat and mouse with the man who attacked her…

Based on the novel by Philippe Dijan, Elle is a curious and rewarding feature. The film combines drama, mystery and black comedy in its depiction of a woman in the aftermath of a traumatic incident. Given the opening sequence and its depiction of a brutal rape, viewers would be forgiven for thinking the film would be a bleak affair. Nevertheless, Verhoeven injects a surprising, and welcome, amount of humour into proceedings.

Part of the reason that Elle works so well is the characterisation of its protagonist. Michéle is a thoroughly interesting character. This is almost immediately obvious, in her dealing with the attack. The way in which she deals with this, as well as the other issues in her busy life, makes her intriguing to watch. This is heightened as more details about her past are revealed. Verhoeven creates an air of mystery around his protagonist in regards to her past. The director builds this uneasy tension over her involvement in past events which is very effective.

The mystery over Michéle’s attacker comes into prominence in the second half of the film. The reaction of Michéle makes her more enigmatic that before. Coupled with this is her relationship with her mother, which is frequently humorous, and those close to her. Elle functions as part character study, part mystery. Isabelle Huppert gives a brilliant performance as Michéle. She is ably assisted by Judith Magre and Laurent Lafitte.

Elle is the type of film that ruminates in the mind long after it concludes. Highly recommended viewing.

Elle is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.