Undeterred by themes of brutality, malice and humiliation, Paul Verhoeven tells controversial stories. His films are sensational, upsetting, and fiercely intelligent. Be forewarned that ELLE may disturb—but know that you are in the hands of a master.
ELLE begins in medias res: Michèle (Isabelle Huppert), the head of a successful videogame company, is being beaten and raped in her home by a masked assailant. After he leaves, Michèle cleans up, arranges to have the locks changed, and goes about her business. She doesn't call the police. Days pass. She finds herself fantasizing about the assault, aroused by the possibility of her attacker's return—and the thought of exacting bloody revenge.
As ELLE unfolds, Michèle will contend with myriad challenges: a needy lover; an unambitious son and his disagreeable pregnant girlfriend; an elderly mother whose romantic affairs are an embarrassment to Michèle. Above all, there is Michèle's father, a notorious mass murderer whose latest parole hearing looms. Michèle wants nothing to do with him, but might the darkness of their shared past offer a clue to the lingering, troubling allure of her rape?
Based on Philippe Djian's acclaimed novel Oh..., Verhoeven's first French-language film may be his greatest achievement yet. It plays like an object lesson in suspense and thematic density. Not a moment is wasted, not a word or glance is without consequence. Subplots develop in tandem, only gradually revealing their subtle links with the central narrative thread. And they all converge on Michèle, one of the most powerful and fearless creations of Huppert's stunning career. (From the 2016 Toronto Film Festival Program Guide)
See also: THINGS TO COME, opening Fri, Jan 6, also starring Isabelle Huppert, directed by Mia Hansen-Løve.
See also: Director Spotlight: 3x Verhoeven / 2x Jarmusch, which includes screenings of Paul Verhoeven’s BASIC INSTINCT, SHOWGIRLS, and STARSHIP TROOPERS.
“A deadly serious and deeply reasoned film about rape, not solely from the director’s point of view—Verhoeven doesn’t examine his character coldly—but from Michèle herself, (and by proxy, Huppert) who undertakes an intellectual examination of her rape and rapist...Her performance is a clear case of actress as auteur. Her scenes confronting her rapist intellectually are among the best in her obscenely illustrious career. ” —Miriam Bale, New Republic
“Possibly [Verhoeven’s] most provocative work to date...Huppert is phenomenal in her most unnerving performance since Michael Haneke’s THE PIANO TEACHER.” —Ty Burr, Boston Globe
“An elegant, nasty piece of work...a ready-made mix of sex, violence and teasingly provocative atmosphere that’s right up the alley of the man who gave us BASIC INSTINCT and SHOWGIRLS.” —Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
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