Isabelle Huppert’s performance in Elle will make viewers want to dig out her entire back-catalogue and absorb it all. She’s just that good. As Michèle, Huppert is strong, funny, brash, beautiful, charming, and caring all at once – displaying incredible restraint where necessary to denote her character’s protective wall, while still harbouring a certain amount of vulnerability to ensure that viewers establish an emotional connection. We’re introduced to our lead in the worst possible circumstances, during her struggle and rape by an unknown intruder. Director, Paul Verhoeven, shows class by not glorifying or even dwelling on the act to instead focus on its psychological effects.
Elle has an entirely different tone to any rape-themed film that we’ve seen before, and that actually helps us change the way that we, as an audience, process the act and clearly perceive how it affects the victim. Michèle doesn’t let it hold her back, seeking the required medical attention but refusing to call police, for reasons disclosed later. She tells a few close friends, but ultimately carries on with her life as normal – as the head of a video game design agency, which she runs with her best friend.
The way that Michèle’s friends and family fit in her life is constructed similarly to a soap opera – and considering the extremity of the events that transpire, it kind of plays out that way. There’s a rape, an unwanted pregnancy, multiple affairs, and several counts of homicide. It also builds into a murder-mystery of sorts, with Michèle suspiciously evaluating all these people in her life, as to which of them could be her attacker. Satisfyingly, all of these questions raised are concisely answered in due course – largely thanks to the brilliant screenplay from David Birke, who adapted the novel by Philippe Djian. In the end, apart from being one of the best films of the year, Elle highlights the horrifying truth that much of the pain and abuse directed at women today is more often than not caused by men.