ⓘ Elle (film)
Elle is a 2016 thriller film directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by David Birke, based on the novel Oh. by Philippe Djian. Djians novel was released in 2012 and received the Prix Interallie. The film stars Isabelle Huppert as a businesswoman who is raped in her home by a masked assailant and decides not to report it due to her past experience with police.
The film is Verhoevens first feature since 2006s Black Book, and his first in the French language. It premiered in competition for the Palme dOr at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival where it received critical acclaim. Elle won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and Critics Choice Movie Award for Best Foreign Language Film; it was also selected as the French entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but was not nominated. At the 42nd Cesar Awards in France, the film received eleven nominations, and won Best Film.
Hupperts performance was widely acclaimed, considered to be one of the finest of her career. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, and won several Best Actress awards, including the Golden Globe Award, Cesar Award, National Society of Film Critics Award, New York Film Critics Circle Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, Gotham Independent Film Award, and the Independent Spirit Award.
Michele Leblanc is raped in her home by an assailant in a ski mask, then cleans up the mess and resumes her life. She is the head of a successful video game company, where her male employees are alternately resentful of or infatuated with her. She carries on an affair with Robert, the husband of her friend and business partner Anna, and flirts with her married neighbor Patrick. Michele feels detached from her son Vincent, who submits to his abusive, pregnant girlfriend Josie. She has a contentious relationship with her mother, Irene, whom she resents for her narcissism and involvements with younger men. Furthermore, she is the daughter of an infamous mass murderer whose parole hearing is approaching. Haunted by her fathers actions, Michele is wary of law enforcement and does not report her rape to police.
Michele grows increasingly suspicious of the men in her life. She receives harassing text messages from her assailant at a blocked number, indicating he is stalking her. She at first suspects Kurt, a particularly resentful employee, when a CGI animation of a monster raping her is emailed to everyone at the company. She pepper-sprays a man lurking outside her house, only to find out it is her ex-husband Richard, who was checking on her safety. She later discovers that another employee, who has been infatuated with her, created the animation but did not rape her.
On Christmas Eve, Irene suffers a stroke and begs her daughter to go see her father before she dies at hospital. Michele is later attacked in her home by the assailant and, after stabbing his hand and unmasking him, learns that he is Patrick. Though she now knows his identity and realizes that he is able to enter her home despite having her locks changed, she still does not call the police and takes no measures to increase her home security.
Michele decides to visit her father after his parole application is rejected, only to find that he has hanged himself hours before she arrives. On the way home from the prison, she gets into a car crash in a secluded area. Rather than calling an ambulance, she first tries to call her friends, and then decides to call Patrick. After he rescues her from the car and bandages her, Michele courts a brazenly dangerous sexual relationship with him. She engages in a vivid rape scenario with him. The two of them walk a delicate line in which Patrick has to feel as though he is raping Michele, even though she consents to the roleplay.
Michele grows increasingly disillusioned with her life leading up to the launch party for her companys new video game. She confesses to Anna that she was having an affair with Robert. As Patrick drives her home, Michele professes that she is no longer in denial about their unhealthy relationship and claims she intends to call the police. She takes her time walking in front of his parked car after getting out, and then makes a point to leave her gate unlocked. Patrick enters and attacks her, in an ambiguous encounter that blurs the line between rape and consent - but Vincent, who was already in the house, sneaks up behind Patrick and bashes him in the back of the skull. Michele appears to remain largely composed, but Patrick is seemingly confused as he dies.
Michele speaks briefly with Patricks wife Rebecca as she is moving out of the neighbourhood. Rebecca is placid and expresses gratitude to Michele for being able to temporarily "satisfy Patricks needs" - implying that she was aware on some level that the two were sexually involved and that Patrick had inclinations she couldnt satisfy. Vincent is now more assertive in his relationship and career, while Michele reconciles with both Josie and Anna; the latter offers to move in with her now that they have both severed their relationships with Robert.
2.1. Production Development
Paul Verhoeven stated that he felt the movie was an opportunity for him to do "something very different to anything Ive done before. But this stepping into the unknown, I think it’s very important in the life of an artist. It puts you in an existential mode. As an artist you have to, as much as possible, step into the unknown and see what happens to you." The project was unveiled at the Marche du Film during the 2014 Cannes Film Festival where it was described as "pure Verhoeven, extremely erotic and perverted." Verhoeven was looking for an actress who would be "prepared to take that on" and believed Nicole Kidman "could handle this role." He also considered Charlize Theron, Julianne Moore, Sharon Stone, Marion Cotillard, Diane Lane, and Carice van Houten for the role of Michele, a businesswoman who is raped in her home by an unknown assailant and refuses to let it alter her precisely ordered life. Verhoeven told The Guardian that he reckons that the only American actress who would have been willing is Jennifer Jason Leigh. "She would have had absolutely no problem, shes extremely audacious. But shes an artistic presence and we were looking for names", he said. Verhoevens inability to convince a major American actress to play the part left him frustrated, as he later explained, "I agree that there are not many female parts – certainly not in American cinema. Its weird that when there is one, they lacked the audacity to be controversial. I hope all these actresses see the movie."
The film was originally supposed to take place in Boston or Chicago but, according to Verhoeven, it proved to be "too difficult" to shoot the film in the United States due to its violent and immoral content as "that would have meant getting more into the direction of Basic Instinct, but a lot of the things that are important in the movie would probably have been diminished. By bringing it more into a thriller direction, I think it would have lost everything. It would probably have been banal and transparent. The mystery would have gone." Verhoeven then decided to do it in French and used a significant time before production to learn the language, in order to effectively communicate with the predominantly French cast and crew. In September 2014, French actress Isabelle Huppert signed on to star in the film as Michele. Huppert had expressed interest in a screen adaptation of the book before Verhoeven, whom she described as "one of the best directors in the world for me," joined the production and accepted the part immediately, "I had no doubt about the integrity to the role. Of course if you just circle the story to the rape and a woman being attracted by the man who raped her, I mean, that really makes the whole purpose very, very narrow and limited. I think its a lot more than this. And shes really interesting character because shes always go against predictable definitions of what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a man. Obviously, the movies about a woman. But its also about men, you know, and the men are sort of fading figures, very weak, quite fragile. So its really also about the empowerment of a woman."
2.2. Production Music
The score of Elle was composed by English composer Anne Dudley and was released on 23 September 2016.
The first poster for the film was released in May 2015, during the Cannes Film Festival where SBS Productions sold the film internationally. On 16 January 2016, the first trailer and the final poster were released. On 11 March 2016, French film magazine Le Film français announced that SBS Distribution moved up the release date from 21 September to 25 May 2016. On 14 April 2016, it was announced that the film had been selected to compete for the Palme dOr in the main competition section at the Cannes Film Festival. On 27 April 2016, several images of the film were released.
On 11 May 2016, it was announced Sony Pictures Classics had acquired distribution rights to release the film in North America, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe excluding Russia and Asia excluding China and Japan. Sony, who had previously acquired Verhoevens Black Book, said in a statement, "This thriller is Paul Verhoeven at his very best and Isabelle Huppert gives the performance of a lifetime. Elle promises to be a hit with audiences this fall." Verhoeven added, "Sony has always been my home in the US, and Im excited that Sony Classics will take care of Elle with the wonderful actress Isabelle Huppert. Im pleased that even my European films have ended up with them." Following the films Cannes premiere, Sony announced its theatrical release in the United States on 11 November 2016.
On 12 August 2016, it was announced Picturehouse had acquired distribution rights to release the film in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Clare Binns, director of programming and acquisition at Picturehouse, praised Verhoeven, whom she described as "a master filmmaker who has always made provocative and exciting work without compromise - Elle is no exception" and also said, "This gripping, multilayered thriller bowled me over in Cannes and I know it’s going to be a big talking point. This is what proper cinema for adults is all about." The film was released in the United Kingdom on 10 March 2017, which made it not eligible for the 70th British Academy Film Awards.
The film also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on 8 September 2016, the San Sebastian International Film Festival on 18 September, the BFI London Film Festival on 8 October, the New York Film Festival on 14 October, and the AFI Fest on 13 November, where Isabelle Huppert was honored with a special tribute to her career.
4.1. Reception Critical response
Elle received widespread critical acclaim, with particular praise for Hupperts performance and Verhoevens direction. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 91% based on 230 reviews, with an average rating of 7.97/10. The websites critical consensus reads: Elle finds director Paul Verhoeven operating at peak power - and benefiting from a typically outstanding performance from Isabelle Huppert in the central role." At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film received an average score of 89 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
The film received a seven-minute standing ovation at its Cannes Film Festival international premiere. Leslie Felperin of The Hollywood Reporter called it "the most empowering "Rape Movie" ever made," and wrote: "Paul Verhoeven’s film about a woman’s complicated response to being raped will draw ire from feminists and others, but it’s one of the bravest, most honest and inspiring examinations of the subject ever put onscreen." Stephane Delorme of Cahiers du cinema wrote the film was "a striking return for the Dutchman. We didnt dare dream of such an audacious, generous film." Guy Lodge of Variety said: "Isabelle Huppert might be our best living actor, and Elle might be Paul Verhoevens best film." Eric Kohn of Indiewire described it as a "lighthearted rape-revenge story." Jordan Mintzer of The Hollywood Reporter called the film a "tastefully twisted mid-to-late-life crisis thriller that’s both lasciviously dark and rebelliously light on its feet" and added that Verhoeven and Huppert "combine their talents to make a film that hardly skimps on the sex, violence and sadism, yet ultimately tells a story about how one woman uses them all to set herself free." Jason Gorber of Twitch Film thought the film was "a masterwork by a master filmmaker, while Hupperts performance reminds the world once again what a treasure she is." Ben Croll of TheWrap believed the film was "riotously funny, and Isabelle Huppert has never been better."
Christopher Hooton of The Independent said it was "Cannes only real high point." Xan Brooks of The Guardian found the film "utterly gripping and endlessly disturbing" and wrote: "Isabelle Huppert delivers a standout performance as a woman turning the tables on her attacker in the controversial director’s electrifying and provocative comeback." Lisa Nesselson of Screen International found that Hupperts "self-assured-and-aloof register is a perfect fit with Verhoeven’s taste for far-fetched human behaviour presented as plausible," and described the film as "suspenseful and unsettling from first frame to last." David Sexton of The Evening Standard labeled the film as "outrageous, funny and shocking, exhilarating and original." Catherine Bray of Time Out wrote the film "might just be the most Paul Verhoeven film yet, due to its willingness to push buttons, explore transgressive territory and take constant delight in venturing where the vast majority of filmmakers would fear to tread" and predicted: "Its a film that will inspire debate for decades to come." Richard Brody of The New Yorker wrote Elle is no exploration of a womans life or psyche but a macho fantasy adorned with the trappings of liberation."
4.2. Reception Top ten lists
Elle was listed on numerous critics top ten lists.
4.3. Reception Accolades
On 26 September 2016, the National Center of Cinematography and the moving image selected Elle as the French entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a shortlist of nine pictures competing for the category on 15 December 2016 that did not include Elle ; many media, including The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Independent and The Guardian, slammed Elle s omission as a "snub." Gregory Ellwood of The Playlist wrote that the film became "one of greatest Oscar Foreign Language Film Snubs of all-time."