Elle

I warned The Boy in advance that this movie would be weird and weirdly sexual. Knowing nothing about it other than it was directed by once mega-director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Basic Instinct, Showgirls), that little bit of information was enough to—well, look, his first American film was Flesh + Blood (where Rutger Hauer rapes Jennifer Jason Leigh who then falls in love with him) and his last film was the Nazis-aren’t-even-the-bad-guys where a Jewish girl spy and a Nazi fall in love.

I’m not saying he has issues, I’m just saying he’s Dutch.

Even I don't know what I'm saying with this.
Isabelle Huppert with the director on set.

Anyway, the story here begins with Isabelle Huppert being raped in her home (a scene that plays out, I think, a total of three times) and then just going about her business as if nothing had happened. Her business is being a high-powered successful game company CEO (whose games are rife with sex-like-violence), having sex of various sorts with the husband of her best pal/business partner, and setting up awkward social situations where she can humiliate her ex-husband—something she seems to do for sport more than out of cruelty, though she’s certainly cruel as well.

She’s also hated by the public-at-large, for something that happened 40 years prior, when she was 10. (Isabelle Huppert is 63, and while she doesn’t look young, she’s got that French thing going where she makes “mature” work.) This is why she doesn’t involve the police in her rape which, frankly, doesn’t seem very traumatic to her. And, in her pursuit to discover who her attacker is, she enlists the talents of a young programmer with the hots for her to spy on all the private computers of her employees. (Something which probably isn’t within the power of a game programmer; just because you can program a computer doesn’t mean you can crack into someone else’s. But it’s too much to ask for a movie to get that distinction correct.)

As nerds will.
And then he takes her shooting.

At the various points in the film where most narratives would crank things up and close them down, this film…does not. It just gets weirder. Like, discovering who made a distasteful computer animation of her reveals nothing about the rape mystery and a lot about her ethical “freedom”. A failed later seduction of the Christian neighbor’s husband, which might also have gone into a typical “twist”, does not. Even discovering her rapist—that actually happens fairly early on, and is not really the point of the proceedings.

There’s nothing normal about it. It’s just very Verhoeven. I’d say “very Dutch” but I haven’t noticed that other Dutch films are like this at all. But I often get the Danes, the Belgians (Frisians, I think?) and the Dutch mixed up. I actually can’t think of any non-Verhoeven Dutch films. Which says something about them or me, or both of us. Also, I think this movie is technically French, Verhoeven notwithstanding.

Tough negotiator.
“Look, just sign the contract and I’ll stop smashing dinnerware over your head.”

There’s a scene where Huppert starts arming up, and you think maybe this’ll turn into a day-of-the-woman style revenge picture (but only if you don’t know Verhoeven) and while it was odd to see self-defense positively depicted in a European film, it was not as odd as seeing someone say grace at the dinner table. First time I’ve seen that in a French, Dutch, German…any European film I can think of, actually.

Of course, the religion thing has a twist on it, too, ’cause, y’know, Verhoeven.

Getting the idea? If you liked Black Book, you’d probably like this. Maybe even Flesh + Blood would be a good indicator. If you like weird sex, rough sex, violent sex, this is probably the film for you. And it is well done, no doubt. The Boy and I liked it, but part of that has to be its sheer difference. This, like The Lobster, is not for everyone.

Jazz hands! Er, tongues!
The most normal scene in Verhoeven’s most normal movie.

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