Elle | Review

Kernel Jack headed off to review ELLE. An interesting film for Jack, a little more arthouse than his usual line up. I have to see this because of Paul Verhoeven directing, love his work, an 80s/90s legend. This one looks a little like another gut punching movie centred around rape, IRREVERSIBLE, I have given Jack some disturbing movie homework haha. ELLE is releasing tomorrow on an arthouse run – check out your local cinemas. It is releasing from Sony Pictures Australia, is rated MA15+ and runs for 131mins. Enjoy Jack’s thoughts……….all the best………JK.


This was, without a doubt, the most conflicting movie experience of the year, and I’m not saying that because I’m unable to form an opinion on it, although to a certain degree, I did struggle with that too, but I got there in the end. However, this was a conflicting experience because the screening was held in what is probably the most comfortable type of cinema ever, Gold Class. Big reclining chairs, plenty of legroom, food and desserts delivered to your seat. It’s paradise. Watching a movie in Gold Class is a rare treat, and it makes for the most comfortable, pleasant viewing experience ever. The film, ELLE, on the on the other hand, is the most uncomfortable, unpleasant viewing experience ever, completely contradicting the nature of the theatre I was in, and I really didn’t know how to feel.


Elle Isabelle Huppert and Laurent Lafitte image



ELLE, shockingly, opens with a rape scene. Or, more accurately, the end of a rape scene. Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) has had a trouble past, and this rape scene serves as the catalyst of our story. She tries to go about her daily life, working as the head of a game company and sleeping around with her best friend Anna’s (Anne Consigny) husband, Robert (Christian Berkel), but what happened is not forgotten, and the masked man who raped her isn’t done quite yet. Over the coming weeks, he begins to terrorize and assault her, maintaining his distance for the most part, but leaving a sense of constant oncoming threat.

Not wanting to go to the police, Michèle tries to seek her rapist out for herself, beginning a game of cat and mouse. Whether she’s the cat or the mouse isn’t really clear, and she knows it. While this is going on, her son, Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), is having both financial and marriage troubles and is in need of her assistance, and on top of that, Michèle is starting to develop quite the crush on her new neighbour, Patrick (Laurent Lafitte), much to the disapproval of Robert. There’s a lot going on in ELLE, none of it really all that pleasant, but hey, at least director Paul Verhoeven is back at it again, and it really is great to see him back behind the camera.


Elle Isabelle Huppert image



Between ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL and BASIC INSTICT, amongst many of his other films, Verhoeven certainly doesn’t like to hold things back. His films go to the extremes, and with ELLE, he creates a strong piece of cinema. It’s sick, twisted and all sorts of shocking, and a vile depiction of human behaviour. Rape, murder and abuse are all brought into this dark drama, and while not all of them are necessarily shown on screen, the implications and discussions are there, and none of them are pretty.

It’s an incredibly dark and disturbing movie, the initial rape scene shown multiple times and not once did it get easier to watch, and unfortunately that’s not the only depiction of such actions. This is a great display of filmmaking, and Verhoeven undeniably creates a sense of unease through strong tension, but there came a point where, no matter how well crafted the film was, it just wasn’t an enjoyable film to watch, and I definitely don’t see myself ever revisiting it. It does what it set out to do, but it wasn’t trying to please its audience. It’s not a crowd pleaser, and it’s very difficult to sit through, so much so that, when the credits rolled, I was mildly pleased. Not because it was a bad movie, but simply because I couldn’t take it anymore. I just needed a break from the heaviness of the story.


Elle Isabelle Huppert and a cat image



One of the reasons this film is so hard to sit through is because it feels so real. It feels authentic, even with a few moments and character decisions that had me going ‘hmmm I don’t know about that.’ While this is, in part, thanks to the screenplay by David Birke, if it weren’t for the performances, it wouldn’t be nearly as impactful as it ends up being. Isabelle Huppert steals the film, creating a performance that’s both strong and tragic. Having only seen a very small handful of her films, I wasn’t aware of how good of an actress she is, but after seeing her in ELLE, I really want to see more of what she’s done. She’s fantastic.

For the most part as well, the supporting cast is great. Laurent Lafitte’s performance is versatile and challenging. He’s given scenes that require a tremendous performance in order for them to work, and he pulls through every single time. The character of Vincent didn’t really work for me, and I don’t think Jonas Bloquet is to blame as he portrayed the character as I presume it was meant to be portrayed, but his character was just a little… off, and I couldn’t find myself appreciating Bloquet all that much. He just didn’t sit well with me.


Elle Isabelle Huppert image



ELLE clocks in at two hours and ten minutes, and it’s a runtime that can certainly be felt. It sets up the whole rape plot right away, but it’s dropped for a little bit, setting up its several other plots instead, and so when we return back to that first plot, it’s slightly jarring at first. In fact, the plots feel so distant from one another during the first hour and a bit that, every time it cut between them, it didn’t flow as well as it should have. It was a bit all over the place, and it’s not really until the third act kicks in where the plots start to come together, weaving in with one another and making for a much more seamless viewing, even if it is only for about thirty or so minutes.


ELLE is a dark, sick and twisted film that does serve as an excellent display of what director Paul Verhoeven is capable of, but doesn’t make for a pleasant viewing. Its dark, vile subject matter is uncomfortable to watch and frequently disturbing, and no matter how great the performances and directing are, it’s not a film that I ever need to see again in my entire life.


3 Pops




When he’s not spending an embarrassing amount of hours browsing through Netflix, Jack Dignan dedicates his time to reviewing movies of all genres and languages, and has done so since 2012. He also maintains a website of his own – www.directorscutmovies.com – and ever since their interview, he’s been best friends with Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino just doesn’t know it yet. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.