“You always wanted a sanitized version of life,” says Irene Leblanc (Judith Magre), chiding her daughter Michele (Isabelle Huppert). Michele has just walked in on her mother in a state of semi-undress with a toy boy lover. In Paul Verhoeven’s film, Michele is constantly surrounded by desire, control and sexuality. As a top video games executive, she encourages her artistic team to more graphically depict the barbarous acts of an orc rapist. She is in the throes on an imprudent affair with a colleague’s husband. Her father is a notorious Seventies mass murderer. Meanwhile, she is raped at home by a masked intruder. “Thursday. At 3pm,” she tells a group of stunned friends with clinical detachment.
Verhoeven has long liked to provoke his audiences – in Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, Black Book – and Elle is no exception. Michele remains determined not to give in to her anxieties about the incident, she pursues a business as usual line, maintaining a rigorous sense of purpose. Occasionally, though, her self-control cracks. Verhoeven pitches Elle as several films at once. It is partly a comedy of bourgeois manners involving the various vexing members of Michele’s family, partly a lurid thriller about the ramifications of assault and also a sophisticated portrait of a multifaceted central character.
Huppert – rightly nominate for a Best Actress Oscar – successfully navigates these tonal and narrative shifts, fusing Verhoeven’s contradictory trails into a consistent, complex performance. For Verhoeven’s part, working from a novel by Betty Blue author Philippe Djian, he is clearly in debt to Hitchcock, Polanski and DePalma – masters of black comedy and prurient melodrama.
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The May 2017 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Buckingham Nicks. Elsewhere in the issue, there’s interviews with Elastica, Mac DeMarco, John Lydon and Mike Love. We take a trip to Morocco – North African destination of The Beatles, Stones, Hendrix and more – and look back at the life of Laura Nyro. Our free CD collects great new tracks from Father John Misty, Mark Lanegan Band, Fairport Convention, Thundercat and more. The issue also features Wire on their best recorded work. Plus Future Islands, Lemon Twigs, Sleaford Mods, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, T.Rex, Cosey Fanni Tutti and more, plus 131 reviews