Elle  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

There’s so much to unpack in this mysterious, morally askew and challenging film. Keep an open mind going in: this isn’t the film you think it is going to be and it is pleasantly surprising to find it to be less about sex and violence but more about desires, loneliness and survival. For a film written and directed by men, the subject of rape is handled in an almost feministic way while all the male characters are either weak or deplorable. But if, according to the Q&A with Isabelle Huppert, you take this film not as a realistic depiction of life, the themes the film explores become more provocative and intriguing. David Birke’s script, based on a novel by Phillippe Djian is Almodovarian and Paul Verhoeven’s direction reminds me of Michael Haneke – it’s only in the treatment of sex and violence that you can see Verhoeven’s DNA. But this is essentially Isabelle Huppert’s film: she is the key in selling this to an audience who, like me, is teetering on a razor’s edge in either going with the narrative’s flow or pushing back with resentment and horror. Her convincing and fearless performance wins me over, no matter how much I want to roll my eyes at the screen, and in lesser hands, my eyes will have been in the back of my head. The fact I find the film believable (as opposed to realistic) – and it helps immensely this is in French and set in France, for there is no way this film could exist had it been in English – is no small feat and this is all down to Huppert and her cold, unsympathetic yet totally engaging characterisation. I left the film a little perplexed but I also find this part dark comedy, part suspenseful drama, totally bonkers and disturbingly appealing.

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