This is not one to recommend to the Sunday School class at your
church. Director Paul
Verhoeven (“Basic Instinct,” “Showgirls”) has proven to be a
provocateur when it comes to sexuality, and “Elle” is no
Michele Leblanc (Isabell Huppert) owns a graphic design company
that specializes in video games, especially ones that unembarrasingly
focus on juvenile guys: after vanquishing the enemy, “going after”
the sexy heroine. Michele
is certainly unembarrassed about her own sexuality:
divorced and with a grown son who lives with his girlfriend,
Michele messes around with the spouse of her best friend, just for the
recreation. She also
voyeurs out her front window at the neighbor across the street,
Patrick (Laurent Lafitte), and even provocatively demonstrates some
clandestine under-the-table interest when she sits next to him at a
neighborhood dinner. Despite
being married to a beautiful young woman, Rebecca (Virginie Efira),
Patrick is also interested, but not in the way Michele intends. And
just for good measure, her ex, Richard (Charles Berling), has taken up
with a beautiful young yoga instructor, Helene (Vimala Pons).
Michele's son, Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), is struggling in a
dead-end job, but seems completely devoted to his pregnant fiancee,
Josie (Alice Isaaz), but she has a mean streak and a quick temper.
Not to mention a wandering eye of her own.
Isabelle's mother, Irene (Judith Magre) has not only indulged
in several botox facelifts, but taken up with a courtier, Ralf
(Raphael Lenglet), whom she originally paid, but now claims she's in
love with, a prospect which horrifies Michele.
But all these family considerations are trumped by an
attack on Michele by a masked intruder.
At first, she is so distraught that she's can't even process
it, much less speak about it. She
refuses to go to the police, because she has a long and difficult
relationship with the legal authorities:
her father had gone on a serial murdering spree when Michele
was still a child, and he is still in prison. She feels they treated
her like some sort of accomplice, and therefore won't have anything to
do with them. Even to
report her own rape at the hands of a ski-masked attacker. She
keeps having flashbacks to that horrific moment, sometimes imagining
herself somehow getting the upper hand and managing to combat his
rough advances. What she
won't admit to herself is that there's a small part of her own kinky
sexuality that might have actually enjoyed a little rough play, but of
course in a controlled situation.
She also barely admits to herself that she once had flirtation
with her best friend, Anna (Anne Consigny), which might have ended
more seriously if they'd been able to stop laughing.
Complicated enough for you?
The Europeans in general, and the French in particular, do not
always have the same assumptions about nudity as we Americans
do---perhaps because their history does not include the Puritan
movement? Anyway, the
sexuality is definitely “out there” in this film, but it's also
attached to strong emotions, which are themselves not always encased
in marital fidelity. In
fact, come to think about it, nobody here is happily married, which
tells you something about the value system in place here (which can be
summarily described as “if it feels good, do it”).
And how does one discuss a rape over a fine dinner with friends
in a tableclothed restaurant where the waiter is offering a vintage
wine? Yes, the incongruity
is almost comical, which, if intentional, is dark humor, indeed.