Refreshing and Mysterious
Refreshing. If I had to describe Elle in one word, refreshing would be it. French masterclass Isabelle Huppert makes complexity look so effortless and from the moment Elle begins, we feel as though we’re not allowed to watch. Huppert’s amoral heroine Michele Leblanc is so incomparable to any other character in contemporary cinema. That sense of originality makes watching her feel like an invasion of her privacy. To be fair though, director Paul Verhoeven is a voyeurist at heart. Elle is a tour de force in voyeurism and I honestly couldn’t bring myself to stop watching.
Elle follows Michele Leblanc, a successful, Parisian business-woman whom we are introduced to as she’s being raped in her own home by a masked intruder. It was very important that this was the opening scene because it makes audiences think that this traumatic violation is what the rest of the movie is going to be about, but it's not. It’s also about Michele’s various relationships, her enigmatically complex personality, and the numerous roles that she plays in going about her day.
I really thought Huppert was going to win the Oscar she was nominated for and it still feels like a horrible dream that she didn’t. She simply turns on a light switch to become Michele and for all of Elle, we see that light shine over her head. Michele Leblanc is a queen in her own life, ruling her existence with remarkable assertiveness. It's almost as though she’s being possessed by Isabelle Huppert herself. Huppert really makes you wonder how different she is from her character. She’s that cinematically effective.
David Birke’s script is full of twists and turns. The more invested we get with Huppert, the deeper we place ourselves in Birke’s psychological rabbit hole of ironic intensity. Anne Dudley’s score satirically shows off the film’s controversial moments, as Elle is nothing if not unapologetic. There comes a point long before Elle ends where Michele discovers who it was who had raped her and by choice, she continues to associate with him until she no longer wants to. This has to be the film’s biggest controversy, yet one has to understand that Elle is not a grand statement about rape or victims of it generally speaking, but rather a perversely fascinating narrative from the point of view of this different type of woman, a manipulative person with her own motives. She's smart and she’s always one step ahead of everyone else.
Michele is vulnerable in a very modern way. She never cries once about anything in the film. There are moments where you can tell she thinks she’s a sociopath, but she isn't. She’s just so much more unique than everyone else and that's not something you can feel sorry for her about. Michele doesn't desire anyone’s sympathy. Everything about her is a strength, not a weakness.
Elle is a masterpiece of drastically high extents, but maybe not everyone will get it. I love films that require you to do a lot of thinking, but thinking and understanding are not the same things. So if you don’t understand Elle, don’t try to because you’ll never get it. Only those with wide-open minds and firm strong stomachs will face no difficulty in unraveling what it is that makes Elle a truly exceptional movie, which is the notion that some people simply are like Michele Leblanc, who live and behave in accordance to only one set of standards - their own.