Elle online movie review - yes, see it, but...
Elle is a gloriously f***ed up film, a film noir with a femme fatale who isn't out to screw some average Joe over or anything like that, but instead is a woman who not so much delights in her sexual perversity and taboo but does it out of not having any other choice it seems.
The background on Michele Leblanc, Isabelle Hupert's character, is that her father was a murderous monster who killed several people (from my understanding of what the film says some kids too) and has been in prison for 40 years and may be up for parole. But did Michele, even at the age of 10 (and with a picture taken of her after a fire in her underwear as an "Ash Girl"), collaborate with her father? Could this somehow tie in to her being raped in the very first scene of this film?
Oh yeah, if you're looking for a "content warning" sticker rape and assault against women is right up at the top of the list. It's also a stalker, as the man who rapes her - and, at some point, will try to do it again - sends her threatening text messages and screws with her at work by changing some footage from a video game she's producing to have one character being sodomized and Michele's face pasted on. Why no one else in the office really questions this - is it just another of those hacks that have been happening lately - or why it doesn't become a much bigger deal in the story may be something of a plot-hole (or perhaps one has to take for granted that the French may react differently than an American would). But no matter - Michele gets a few weapons, some pepper spray, and is ready.
Why not call the cops? Good question - would they believe the infamous daughter of this man who is so reviled that it causes complete strangers to throw food on Michele in public places? What makes Elle so disturbing and, to use a synonym for f***ed up, dangerous is where it goes with her reactions to what happened and how it ties in with a larger psychological pattern. This is a woman who has also had to put up with being in a loveless affair with one of her co-worker's husband, having a dips*** son who can't seem to get it through his skull (ala, uh, Me Myself & Irene?) that her girlfriend cheated on him and had a black baby which clearly isn't his "but, hey, it's still my son so I'll be the father etc", and her mother who is another piece of work, at least in Michele's view. Oh, and there's the neighbor across the street who is married to a good Christian girl...
I don't think Verhoven even means to make this about rape so much, though naturally how he depicts it is rough and brutal and if you really find it repulsive to see even in a dramatized form then stay away from this movie, I mean it, than it is about... being detached from a normal sexual outlook on life (who knows, perhaps I'm reading in-between the lines a bit much here, if her father did things to her as a child before his rampage). In this way Elle would make for a splendid double feature with another rancid story of perversion and societal malaise as another Hupert film, Haneke's The Piano Teacher. Think of that kind of character in a way, only not so much frigid and clinically detached as not 'turned on' the right way.
Clearly with where this story ends up going is meant to provoke and shock. I think with the exception of the son's sub-plot, which I found distracting in a way that didn't seem to help the film much (I think eventually there's some emotional moment between mother and son where he states simply that he could be a good father that does connect a little to what's going on, but it's too little and too late for me), because the focus is so much on Michele and the things that happen both to her and that she lets happen and that she does to others, the character study approach works. I was also reminded of another Hupert collaborator who did his share of risqué mysteries, Claude Chabrol, in some of the handling of scenes and how she has conversations with people. But once the movie dispenses with the mystery, well, it turns Full Metal Verhoven on us, in a way that's kind of delightful in a exploitationy kind of way (except that the way it's shot and acted it's too classy to ever get too down and dirty).
So, do I recommend it? Yes, but, and it's not a simple but for me to leave here, I'm still wrestling hours after watching if it has more to say outside of "sometimes damaged people are really, really warped forever and their transgressions can only stop by, uh, choice." It's provocative and daring and directed by a master of this kind of stuff - in a sense it's also a more, er, mature, less s***-writing kind of Ezsterhaus script ala Basic Instinct - but a part of me thinks, what's the point aside from provocation? It's a conflicted high praise I give, the sort of look I give like the cat in the very first shot of the film - I wouldn't claw his eyes out either.