Elle a Misogynist Film

ELLE (2016)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
SBS Productions, 130 minutes, R (nudity, violence, disturbing scenes)

Let's get straight to the point: Elle is a violent misogynist film dressed up as a psychological drama. It was the French entry for the Oscars' Best Foreign Picture award and Isabelle Huppert was nominated for Best Actress consideration, but all that shows is how male-dominated the film industry remains. I will grant that Ms. Huppert's performance was riveting and courageous, but I wonder what the hell she was doing in such a film in the first place.

Huppert plays Michèle Leblanc, a woman haunted by a horror that befell her when she was ten: her wealthy father, seemingly without any reason, went on a mass murder rampage. A journalist snapped a photo of the child Michèle staring blankly into space, her face covered in soot from a backyard burning of papers. Since then, both she and her mother have been objects of hatred by those assuming they too are sociopaths. Unfair? Well… mother Irène is a plastic surgery queen who takes up with younger men á la Zsa Zsa Gabor, a behavior that disgusts Michèle, though one wonders why when she's doing the same thing minus the surgery. She is divorced, estranged from her son, Vincent, flirts with younger work colleagues, and sleeps around like a nymphomaniac. She even has office sex with the paramour of her best friend and business partner. Her justification? "I just wanted to get laid."

Michèle's job also arouses suspicion. She and her friend Anna (Anne Consigny) are the founders and creative heads of a video game company currently at work on a sex-, rape-, violence-, and gore-filled version of Lovecraft's Cthulhu. Ratchet the drama when a masked man in black forces his way into Michèle's apartment in broad daylight, throws her to the floor, bloodies her face, and rapes her. Does she report it? No; in fact, it's days later before she tells her colleagues what happened, an event she casually dismisses as unworthy of pursuing further. Besides, she doesn't trust cops. She doesn't even go to the cops when her company's server is hacked and Cthulhu's female victim—and why is it always a female victim?—has Michèle's face?  

Is the above distressing enough for you? Wait, there's more. SPOILER ALERT:  Michèle seeks to find out the rapist's identity so she can understand his dark motives. When she finds out, does she go to the police? Nope. She has beat-down sex with him a few more times. Guess she just wanted to get laid.

OK—I get the idea that both the attacker and Michèle are damaged goods prone to living on the dark side. I get also that both try move beyond those impulses by wearing disinterested masks. I guess Verhoeven wants to make the point that Michèle's attacker is the logical extension of the fantasies she sells. Or do both she and her rapist suffer from a toxic mix of Piaget-level anxiety, anomie, and existential angst?  Maybe Verhoeven is just a creep? He has, after all, given us peep show dreck such as Diary of a Hooker, Turkish Delight, Katie Tippel, Showgirls and Basic Instinct (Tag Line: You'll believe Sharon Stone has a vagina!)  

I am at a loss to understand why Elle captivated critics. It is, as I said upfront, a misogynistic film—one glommed onto some very silly and unnecessary side stories—Iréne's antics, scenes with Vincent's total Gorgon of a girlfriend, obvious red herrings—to get us to a finale that raises the ghoul bar another notch. Yes, Huppert is excellent. Has she ever been bad? But one wonders why this film needed to be made. Maybe there are self-loathing people like Michèle running around. If you know any, for God's sake make sure they get therapy.

Rob Weir


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