Elle has been making the rounds at film festivals since its premiere at Cannes this past year, with much acclaim and, in typical Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) fashion, some controversy surrounding its content. It tells the story of Michele Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert), a successful business woman, who is raped by an unknown ski-masked assailant. Unfortunately, in today’s world, this isn’t something that’s entirely shocking itself, but it’s the way Verhoeven’s Michele reacts to the rape that will unsettle viewers.
The film opens with a struggle that isn’t seen. The noises that are being made, however, are unmistakable. When we catch a glimpse of the sight, we see Michele on the ground with her assailant dressed in black standing above her, he quickly leaves, Michele still lying on the ground stunned for a moment before getting up and doing everything a rape victim shouldn’t do. First, she cleans up the crime scene and then gets into the bathtub with a glass of wine with an odd look that I couldn’t discern the moment that I was viewing it, but as the movie went along, I figured it out.
Her look was of pleasure.
Yes. This film goes there.
Michele doesn’t tell her son when he asks about a bruise on her face. “Fell off my bike,” she says as she continues about her evening as if nothing happened. It isn’t until later, at dinner that she tells a group of people, including her ex-husband, that she ‘supposes’ she was raped.
Her odd behavior is given a backstory. Her father, Charles Leblanc, was a serial killer who killed a number of people in their town and it’s even suggested that ten year old Michele may’ve participated in this horrific act.
As the film continues, a thread of dark comedy surfaces; Michele goes to the doctor to get an STD panel. “Are you concerned about a recent exposure? I can give you some PEP?”
“Nah. I’ll just roll the dice.”
She looks at a co-worker’s outfit, similar to that of her assailant. She gives her co-worker that same look she had in the bathtub. “I like your outfit.”
It’s safe to say, this isn’t a typical film about rape, and those who are sensitive to this topic probably should avoid it. It’s slated to have an awards friendly November release date, most likely for Isabelle Huppert’s fantastic performance, but I’m not sure how awards bodies are going to take to this. A French movie about rape from the point-of-view of a woman who enjoys it? How on earth does someone sell that?