Monday, January 09, 2017

OVP: Elle (2016)

Film: Elle (2016)
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Christian Berkel, Anne Consigny, Laurent Lafitte, Jonas Bloquet
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Actress-Isabelle Huppert)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

It's time for me to admit that I've never seen Basic Instinct, one of those movies that, while not as pop culturally significant amongst my age demographic, still feels like a miss on my part in terms of seeing a major movie of its era.  It's an OVP film (Editing and Score nominations), so I'll definitely hit it eventually, but it's worth stating this because I had never actually seen a Paul Verhoeven movie prior to catching Elle this past holiday break.  No Basic Instinct, no Showgirls, not even Starship Troopers.  So I had very little idea of what to expect other than that it would be sexually provocative and with Isabelle Huppert at the center, sharp and unexpected.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film doesn't disappoint in that regard, as it reaches for each taboo it can think of within this context and treats them with the care of a sledgehammer.  The movie's opening sequence settles upon a woman, while the credits role over a black screen so we don't see her, who is moaning in what we presume to be sexually pleasure, but as the film pulls back the black screen we see that Isabelle Huppert is being brutally raped by an intruder.  The film's ensuing scenes show her doing things we don't expect, such as cleaning up and showering (Americans, whose most frequent association with rape as depicted by Hollywood, is through Law & Order: SVU, are more used to the next scene being police officers talking to the woman or her sitting in a doctor's office).  We soon learn, however, that the woman Michele (Huppert) is in fact something of a notorious celebrity, as she was the daughter of a famed serial killer whom many people suspect had something to do with the deaths of a number of people in a mass shooting, though she was only a child at the time.

The film follows two separate lines from here, and Michele is difficult to follow as a protagonist as a result of them.  In one hand, we see Michele continuing on with her day-to-day life, indulging in a flirtation with her younger neighbor Patrick (Lafitte) as well as a love affair with her best friend's husband.  In the other hand, she's researching who the man who attacked her is, assuming it is one of the men in her life, probably a younger coworker who laothes her.  As the film continues, we learn (when she is attacked once again) that it is her neighbor Patrick, married with a devoutly Christian wife, who was the rapist, and the film shocks us further by showing that she may be interested in a romantic relationship with him, with Michele not dealing out her cards until the final act, when she tricks Patrick (at this point accustomed to getting to brutally assault her as if it's a game), into coming to her house where her unknowing son kills him.

The film is not shy about shattering our taboos, and is decidedly controversial.  It's hard to discuss it without making assumptions about Michele's intentions all along-did she truly plan on leading Patrick along, essentially breaking his trust in her and destroying him the way that he tried to destroy her in the opening scene, or was it just a happy coincidence of fate?  The film is not shy on questions, but few of them remain answered-the closing scenes show Michele to be far more calculating than we initially anticipated, perhaps inheriting something from her father even if she did it for a worthier cause than he did, and realizing her son has that same trait as well.  The movie has a number of side stories, to the point where I think some of them were a bit too much (her son's relationship with his girlfriend, the ridiculousness with which he treats his "son" as his even though clearly the baby is black, stands out as something that should have been trimmed), but Huppert is excellent and fascinating in the center of the movie.  She makes the character live up to those questions-never giving us easy answers (we assume that she didn't have anything to do with the deaths her father caused, but she lies so coolly and casually that by the end you're not entirely certain whether to trust her in this regard), and there's something masterful in the ways she doesn't make Michele likable, but is still a person who was a victim of a crime-she forces you to compromise those two thoughts in a way that I don't know that I've ever seen in a movie before, and that's fascinating, even if the film itself sometimes is too messy or too shock-value for its own good.

Those are my thoughts-it's a tough and jaw-dropping movie, so I'm curious if you have opinions as well.  If so, please share below.  If you're still waiting to see it, perhaps give a guess-do you think Isabelle Huppert finally lands that Oscar nomination this year?

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