Director Paul Verhoeven doesn’t shy away from horrific drama. Elle begins with a home invasion and rape, largely off-screen, but then repeated and referred back to throughout the movie. It is a jarring opening and sets the tone for the film early – this will be an uncomfortable and unforgiving watch.
This is largely down to the central character. Attacked at the opening of the film, Isabelle Huppert’s Michele is not a “victim.” She doesn’t get phased by what happens but instead uses it to fuel the rest of her life and more specifically social interactions, being spiky with those around her and “speaking her mind.”
Except, it doesn’t seem that Huppert’s character is really changed at all. The events at the beginning of the movie are shocking but seem to make little to no impact on her life and what this film becomes is a snapshot of a woman’s life as she decides to alienate those around her. This also means that there feels like a lack of depth within the movie.
It doesn’t have much in the way of plot development or interesting twists or story-points. At times it feels quite pedestrian, as we watch this woman slowly begin to self-destruct and destroy her own life and the lives of those around her. It is a shame because there are moments which work very well, from the birth of her “grandchild” to revelations about affairs and harassment. Some of this could have been focused on much more and even made more of as part of the central plot but they are more like chapters in a bigger, less exciting story.
Even some of the stranger plot developments don’t seem to work. The revelation of Michele’s attacker should be a big moment but it feels under-played and becomes another plot point which lacks development and needed something more to really make it work. The focus is too much on how cruel and to the point this woman can be rather than actually making her a compelling character you care about.
Overall, Elle feels like a missed opportunity. There is a lot of potential in the storylines, the different characters and social interactions but they are quickly swept aside to move on to the next under-developed plot point. There are moments which work but they are too few and far between.
Rating – 2.5
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