Paul Verhoeven has a track record that would not immediately make you think he could make a movie that would empower a strong central female character, particularly one where sexual politics (and sexual violence) are key to the narrative.
He’s the man behind Showgirls and Basic Instinct and, errr, Diary of a Hooker after all – essentially exploitation movies to a greater or lesser degree.
And it’s highly debatable whether Elle succeeds in its goal, if indeed that is it. Because, despite the incredible central performance by Isabelle Huppert (rightfully Oscar nominated) it takes her from rape victim to rape fantasist over the course of its two hours.
Or did I misread it?
The opening brutal rape scene knocks you back on your feet and Huppert, as Elle, a succesful career woman, recovers from the ordeal remarkably sanguinely and continues her active lifestyle whilst setting out on a revenge mission of sorts.
But that mission is deeply twisted and her horrendous experience seems a little ironic perhaps when we discover she is the owner of a games design company that produces games with dubious sexual morality.
What’s more her father has a deeply unpleasant past, also wrapped in violence in which she was implicated as a child. This only serves to complicate the morality message of the film as a whole.
I found it gratuitous overall. I didn’t think Huppert (despite an excellent performance) advanced female rights and I think the whole thing turned out to be verging on tawdry and certainly too ambiguous to make its point effectively.