Elle (aka Oh!) review by Adrijan Arsovski - Cinema Paradiso
Elle is…well it’s hard to describe since there’s nothing quite like it on the market. One thing is certain however: Elle is Isabelle Huppert’s magnum opus and Paul Verhoeven unsung masterpiece, his swansong if you may, whatever those three adjectives may entail – now and thousand years in the future from now. And the acting: oh my god; Huppert’s performance alone is worth the price of admission, even if the story falters at times and the conclusion is just weak. That doesn’t matter though, since Huppert’s performance rises above the film and above everything else in something that would be appreciated more as the years go by. And just like fine wine, Elle will be remembered as that film that no one saw, but everyone liked (in a Citizen Kane fashion) full stop.
The film starts off, let’s just say brave. We see how the main protagonist Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) experiences a disturbing fate, as a masked man wrestles her to the ground and has his way with her (in a moment that lasts way more than audiences should expect in the first place). Who is that man? And why is Michèle practically unmoved after a scene that most would gnaw in horrible disgust to? There are no simple answers here, only a ton of questions that pull the audience in along for the ride.
Elle’s script is so-so, featuring a strong visual delivery in a convoluted narrative mess that somehow works. In fact, the story is literally following the viewer in circles, throwing hints that go nowhere, a subplot that doesn’t realize as well as it should, and other characters that add nothing whatsoever to the story (they kind of do, but it goes nowhere in particular). One area I felt disappointed is Verhoeven’s approach to the thriller aspects of the film, and to this extent some may feel cheated as I did, since the story had so much potential in that particular aspect. But Elle is not a thriller (although posing as one) neither a mystery, since the biggest reveal happens in the first half of the film. Then what exactly is Elle? It’s a character drama, plain and simple. One that revolves around a woman whose daily façade keeps her deepest desires buried within – desires that would make an average sane woman turn insane in a heartbeat. Not Michèle though, as her insatiable and unconventional sexual appetites, as hard as they are to please, are there to stay for the majority of the film (and probably afterwards as well).
For the solemnly prudent: you may want to steer away from this film and opt for an easy way out with a thriller or a comedy of another caliber. Elle is disturbing on so many levels that cannot go away like a movie monster could since they’re not tangible and something that can be killed with the swing of a bat or a shot of a gun. Therefore, go into Elle with an open mind and make sure to hug the seat closest to the exit in case your values conflict with those presented on the big screen.