The movie opens with such a shockingly brutal rape scene that stuns one into disbelief. Even knowing that it is helmed by Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven who directed the controversial Basic Instinct, and is based on a story by Phillipe Dijan the author of Betty Blue, still doesn’t quite prepare one for the fact that this revenge rape tale with its very contentious issues, will leave most audiences feeling completely unsettled.
Michèle Leblanc (the incomparable Isabelle Huppert) is a very successful businesswoman who runs a video-game company with her best friend Anna (Anne Consigny). She is a divorcee who lives alone in a large elegant house, and a few weeks after she is raped she confides to Anna and her husband, and her own ex-husband about her ordeal. There is a very good reason that she didn’t report the incident to the Police which becomes very apparent as the story unfolds.
She is however not the only one with ‘issues’ in this tense psychological thriller that makes all the major players so multi-faceted that in a way that makes her unexpected behavior a tad more believable. After the attack, her masked assailant keeps cyber taunting her and then he turns up in her house again more than once and repeats the rape with the same savage ferocity, until one occasion she finally manages to unmask him.
Now even though Michèle knows who her assaulter is, she doesn’t share this information with anyone else and she actually actively encourages him to continue with his masochistic role-playing. Michèle has a real angry streak in her as a result of her father’s murderous behavior, the memories of which she has been trying to escape for years, and the reason that she is undeniably mean to her mother for her own inappropriate behavior, but that still doesn’t quite explain why she continues fulfilling her rapist’s fantasies.
Besides her mother, she gives her ex-husband Richard (Charles Berling) a semi-successful novelist with his young girlfriend a hard time, plus her son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) who has fathered a child with Josie (Alice Isaaz) his psychopath girlfriend. The list is seemingly endless of people who not only persistently annoy her, but also that she will heartlessly use to get her own way.
The ending, like the entire movie is totally unpredictable, and is the part where you get to decide if Michèle is justified in acting the way that she did. Whilst you may or may not believe her, you cannot fail to be convinced by the totally stunning Miss Hupert who is on the screen for much of the entire time in one of her career-best performances. She is so electrifyingly brilliant that should not just net her another César Award Nomination (she’s had 15 so far and 1 win), but also a Best Actress nod from the Academy of Motion Pictures.
Despite, or because of it’s perversity, Elle is a masterful piece of movie making that rises way above any notion of sensationalism that reminds us get again how superbly European cinema handles such contentious issues like this. With such a powerhouse performance from it’s star, you will simply regret it if you don’t put this on your must-see list immediately.