Director: Paul Verhoeven
Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven returns to the big screen with a adaptation of the award winning novel "Oh..." written by Philippe Dijan, about Michèle, an independent woman in her fifties who tackles all of life's many turbulences whilst in a strange pursuit of her tormenting rapist. "Return" is a wrong word to use for Verhoeven and I said it because I haven't seen his name since Hollow Man back in 2000. He's probably best know for sci-fi shockers such as the original Robocop and Total Recall, Starship Troopers and the more provocative films, Showgirls and of course, the infamous Basic Instinct which shot Sharon Stone to stardom with that famous leg crossing scene.
He returned to his native Netherlands to make films, Black Book 2006 being one of them followed by a short but main feature Tricked in 2012 which is why I'm was initially shocked upon hearing he had made this French film but then equally impressed that they honoured the source material, which some filmmakers and studios fail to do; Girl On The Train for example set in New York as oppose to the original novel setting of London. It's something that could have so easily been the case, swapping the location of the story to America or even the UK, which was initially the plan, to move the story to the US but star Isabelle Huppert was the only one who wanted the role after so many American actresses had refused, herself actually suggesting to producers Verhoeven as director. Verhoeven even went to French school to brush up on his français as traditionally, French films are made entirely with French crews, himself possibly being the only exception.
Verhoeven's films are often violent, perverse and socially satirical with Elle ticking all of these boxes. It's a twisted, psychological thriller that brings in intrigue from all angles. It's actually hard to say what this film is about, but the basic premise is about a middle-aged, professional and independent woman who tracks down the man who raped her. I left the screen wanting to say so much about the film but had no way of formulating a decent sentence without sounding like a crazy gossiper discussing a month's worth of soap operas in under ten minutes. I think I spent most of the film frowning, continuing asking myself pourquoi? It's not surreal, but it's certainly weird yet riveting at the same time and the real mystery isn't who, but why and would you?
Performances are strong, especially Isabelle Huppert who deserved the Oscar nomination but agreeing, not quite the win. It's difficult because her character isn't wholly likeable but isn't dislikable either possibly making her rather real, like someone you've just met, trying to figure her out, discovering things that put you off, but then redeem herself with other qualities. The strength of her character is both impressive and perplexing, playing both proud host and reluctant victim with astonishing ease.
There's a large number of supporting characters, that convolutes the story, making it slightly confusing to who's who. But all are essential to the story and to enforcing the Michèle's character. We meet her amicable Ex-husband, their son and oppressive girlfriend, her lover, her best friend, her flamboyant mother and her rapist.
It takes an odd perspective of a rather dark occurrence, a violent sexual assault, but what follows as a result is both shocking and bemusing offering immediate intrigue that's incredibly captivating for a long run time of 130mins. It's certainly more drama than thriller with some surprising elements of humour, however to call it a comedy, even as a sub-genre feels wrong.
It's a must for dramatised thriller fans, certainly for fans of European cinema that enjoy confusing and complex stories. I, myself, still can't decide if I loved it or disliked it.
Running Time: 8
The Cast: 8
Job Description: 7
The Extra Bonus Point: 0
Would I buy the Blu-ray?: Hmm.