I first saw French actress Isabelle Huppert in “The Lacemaker” ( 1977 ). She played a shy, virgin betrayed by her seducer. She ended up in a mental ward. Four decades and with hundreds of films to her credit ( like “Loulou” and “The Piano Teacher”), Huppert has lifted The Golden Globe Award for “Best Actress” out of the hands of Natalie Portman, the doppelgänger for our First Lady, Jackie. Huppert showed genuine surprise at this, as did I.
Accolades aside, Isabelle Huppert does not do meek and mild in “Elle”. Her Michelle is so in control that she is out of control. She is damaged goods. Her hurt causes her to hurt others, insufferably so. Yet, she is a victim of the past and of the present. We come to understand her, admire her, but never like her.
Cold humor is here as we watch her steam in jealousy, carry her mother’s ashes under her arm, roll her eyes at her son’s ordinariness. She is a survivor, who has been brutally raped, chooses not to report it, and is complicit in its repetition. She soldiers on and we accept all her meanness and self-pleasuring. When her backstory is revealed to us, we marvel that she did not end up under lock and key.
David Burke’s screenplay is based on Philippe Djian’s novel, “Oh”. It is almost a satire on the “sexy French”. Fetishes like “crunching”, infidelities too numerous to count, and gigolos a prancing fill the screen. Add the animated gaming hyped to produce “boners” and the neighborly rapist, ( you will guess this right away), and we have a crazy world. Something that the French portray zestily well.
Dutch director Paul Verhoeven orchestrates the visceral violence and the subtle absurdity with a crèche rising, a tv mass with Pope Francis, a stud’s hernia belt, and my favorite line: “your background in literature is unsuitable for ( gaming) playability”.I enjoyed the symbolism of the intubated sparrow. I cringed at “the tortured soul’s forgiveness” line, though I think this maybe a major theme.
This is a French film all the way~ cats included. The mix of genres from mystery thriller to sexual farce to a psychological disorders’ studyguide will jostle, just as Isabelle Huppert’s award did me. Huppert is good. Her reserve and icy blankness have been modeled by actress Jessica Chastain, but I have always admired Huppert’s French contemporary, Isabelle Ajani’s more passionate volatility . Affect aside now, I was taken for a ride the French way with “Elle”, and you will be, too.