For Reel


Elle (2016)
February 12, 2017, 5:05 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Paul Verhoeven
4.5 Stars
elleOn the one hand, Elle is a film about systemic misogyny. The eponymous heroine (Isabelle Huppert) is met with hostility nearly everywhere she goes, compounded by the fact that her father is a convicted serial killer who unleashed a series of murders when she was a young girl. Through that lens, Huppert’s Elle becomes a subversive feminist hero, embracing and making a mockery of misogyny through her mastery in creating sexually violent video games. The way that Paul Verhoeven treats the question of desire, however, complicates the material tremendously. It is a film wherein a rape victim begins to exert her will and dominance through her invitation for repeated occurrences. The act itself is never not horrifying—even when the attacker becomes confused and frustrated as the power dynamic seems to be shifting—and yet Elle’s submission to violence and simultaneous refusal to be a victim suggests a tenuous distinction between the character’s arousal and her experience of trauma. Verhoeven is not condescending towards these contradictions of pleasure, with his mockery of the video game industry maintaining the suggestion that fantasies can be equally truthful and irredeemable. The film’s content and quality of subversion might have upset even the most open-minded viewers were it not for Huppert’s irresistible gravitas, who characteristically demonstrates a woman who is utterly unapologetic in her worldview and limits of desire.

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