Paul Verhoeven always adds a satiric element to his films which to me frequently feels tacked on or even forced.  The propaganda spots in Starship Troopers or the little league baseball coach bringing his team along to a jewelry heist during a police strike in Robocop are examples of this.  To me they jar too much in action films which is mostly what Verhoeven makes.  He tries to have it both ways: to make a commercially viable movie and one that is edgy at the same time.  But frankly, Verhoeven isn’t talented enough to pull it off.

Anyway, Elle opens up just as Michelle Leblanc’s, played by Isabelle Huppert, rapist is finishing up.  She’s lying flat on the floor amidst some broken bric-a-brac with torn clothes and a black eye.  After a few moments, she gets herself together, cleans up and tries to go about her business.  Michelle is the head of a video game publisher which she rules with an iron fist.  The company specializes in graphically violent games with disturbing images.  This doesn’t seem to bother her even after the rape.

At first she has the idea that the rapist works there since she has a lot of people who resent her.  She uses her determination and resources to hunt for the man.  The whole thing turns into something of a game that she surprisingly finds intriguing and gradually her motives for finding him become somewhat convoluted.

Huppert’s performance is fine but I don’t think it’s the triumph that others are saying it is.  It’s very understated and French.  This is a French language film by the way.  You have sympathy for her as you would any rape victim but she’s not a very likeable character.  Huppert straddles that line well enough.

I can’t even give Verhoeven the satisfaction of being offended by this movie.  It’s too incompetently put together for that.  The rape is only the most terrible thing of a plethora of terrible things happening here.  Michelle’s having an affair with her best friend’s husband; when she was nine years old, her father went on a killing spree which he may have involved her in; her son’s girlfriend has a baby which obviously isn’t his and the list goes on.  These things rain down on you one after the other with stupefying regularity.  There are about five plots crammed into two hours and eleven minutes and it still manages to drag because it doesn’t build to any kind of climax.  The most terrible thing opens the film.

I suppose the point of this is that circumstances get convoluted and motives get confused.  There’s a banality to that first scene of Michelle sweeping up after the rapist leaves that underlines this theme.  Life goes on no matter what happens and somebody has to clean up.  I guess this is true.  But without giving anything away, I don’t think her actions afterward are realistic.

Elle may be a meditation on the complicated nature of human motivation but it feels like the case of a lawyer defending a rapist.

And it is also a mess of a movie.


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