Friday, October 14, 2016

Elle: Paul Verhoeven Doubles Down on Making a Rape Comedy

Elle (2016) - Verhoeven
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In the age where a presidential candidate says he's grabbed women by the pussy and still has a chance to win, Verhoeven doubles down on the impossible task of making a rape comedy. The king of bad taste, known for such classics as Starship Troopers and Showgirls, Verhoeven has always been walking the fine line between vulgar entertainment and satire while enjoying pushing buttons a little too much. It's a rare gift for a filmmaker to be having a cake and eat it too -- there are no wink-wink moments or obvious strings of the puppet master seen in his films and actors all seem to play straight without irony. But whenever you watch his films, you can feel 'all the world's a stage' vibe. And Elle is a terrific entertainment.

Elle is made possible because of Isabelle Huppert. The most fearless actress of our time, she dives right into the role of Michele, a callous woman who gets raped by a masked intruder and has to deal with the aftermath. The film starts with the said rape in black screen with the sound of glass breaking and beating and moaning. After the incident, Michele carries on as if nothing has happened. She changes all the locks in her luxurious apartment, chides her cat for not gauzing the rapist's eyes out while it was happening, goes to work and dinner parties. As the head of the company which makes sexually violent video games, she complains to her much younger male programmers that the prototype graphics for the next project is not shocking enough. When she announces her experience matter of factly at the dinner party to her friends and her ex, they were flabbergasted by her not calling the police and how calm she is. She gets dirty texts from the assailant and gets somewhat aroused by them. But who is he?

Elle is not a revenge thriller per se. Not quite whodoneit either. Like many of Verhoeven's other films, it is a hard to pin down film. Not as over the top and sentimental as Almodovar nor as clinical and visceral as Cronenberg, but it's so deftly and slyly done, you can't not enjoy it even though rape is not a light subject to joke about. Destined to be controversial and definitely a conversation starter, Elle highlights two artists at the top of their game.