One-man Dutch movie industry Paul Verhoeven directs Elle, or as Cineworld lists it, Elle (French). Not a prequel to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (I don’t know what that means either), Elle stars Isabelle Huppert as the head of a video game company who’s raped in her own home. It’s Gamergate: The Movie.
Except it isn’t. It’s hard to say what it is. Those social questions are in place, along with intensely Hitchcockian elements and icy black humour. It’s also French, which means all the characters are sleeping with one another. Imagine the upturned bourgeois sadism of Nocturnal Animals colliding with the frosty, skin-crawling anxiety of Force Majeure. Verhoeven, who apparently learned French in order to make the movie (not bad for a 78 year old) cuts through this chilly European atmosphere with razor wit and realistic violence.
Ever the agent provocateur (and I don’t mean Mike Ashley’s lingerie firm), Verhoeven is a great satirist at best and inanely controversial at worst. Here, he walks a tightrope between the two, mostly resulting in an intelligent and confrontational picture that toys with the audience, social expectations and sexual politics. The way he plays with physical power dynamics in particular takes on a distinctly Hitchcockian bent – in this case bent out of any recognisable shape, with surprising and original results. And like Trainspotting 2, it prominently features Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’. The similarities end there.
This is all very interesting to a point – a very specific point, after which the film starts to fall apart. The overlong plot loses momentum and the provocative elements lose their edge. But Huppert never loses her cool, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off her 2+ hours of magnetic screen time. Of course, she lost the Oscar to Emma Stone for La La Land. Bloody Elle.