WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
What were your thoughts on Elle?
Is Elle a postmodern feminist film?
Is it progressive or reductive in its exploration of female sexuality?
Check out my video response below:
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Checking the film schedule for the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, I was very surprised to see that Paul Verhoeven had a film in competition. I have always been a fan of Verhoeven’s films. Movies such as The 4th Man, Flesh and Blood, Robocop, and Total Recall are child hood favourites. Basic Instinct holds a very special place in heart. Showgirls was so bad it was good, though it seemed to have damaged his career. Paul has made few films after Showgirls. He certainly has made up for it with the French made feature Elle. Apparently, it was supposed to be made in the US but no American actress wanted to touch it.
Enter French film legend, Isabelle Huppert. The combination of Huppert and Verhoeven proves to be a success. She is the perfect leading lady for his unique blend of sex and violence. Huppert is no stranger to challenging and confronting material. She trawls similar territory in The Piano Teacher and Ma Mere.
Michelle LeBlanc (Isabelle Huppert) runs a successful video game design company. She is separated from her husband and has a young son who is an expectant father. Michelle is also casually sleeping with the husband of her best friend and business partner. The film begins with a masked assailant breaking into her home and raping her. Seemingly unshaken, she doesn’t report the crime and carries on with her day. She casually mentions to her friends and searches for answers as to her who her attacker is. We discover that her father was a mass murderer who involved Michelle in his killing spree.
We get the feeling that the attacker is not quite finished with her. He returns to attack her again. This time she manages to stab him and discover his identity. It’s Patrick, a neighbourhood acquaintance that she has fancied and masturbated over whilst watching him through her windows. She willingly continues the bizarre game of cat and mouse of him, which leads to a tragic climax.
Elle might be a difficult film for some people to accept. What starts off as rape becomes a consensual dance of sexually violent role play between Michelle and Patrick. A union of sexual fantasies. Even after the first time Michelle was raped, I got the sense that she got some satisfaction out of it. This becomes more evident as the film progresses. She arms herself with weapons in case he returns, but she never seems to be a woman in jeopardy. She seems more like a staunch indestructable force. A character in a video game who is itching for some kind of conflict, but not quite revenge.
Michelle is cold and rational. She doesn’t ever seem to truly give us the impression that she is in fear for her life and safety. Violence seems to have been a big part of her life. Her child hood horrors have certainly marked her life and her sexuality. The fact that she is the head of a company that designs ultra violent video games also gives us an indication of her interest and thirst for violence. Perhaps this is the first opportunity she has had to explore her taste for sexual masochism.
It’s refreshing to see Verhoeven not go for the standard rape revenge thriller formula. This is not so much a “who is the man behind the mask”, it’s more so a character study. Some may accuse the film of misogyny or treating women badly, but this would only come from a close minded person that is not willing to accept that Michelle is ultimately not a victim. It’s too easy and overly simplistic to dismiss her as a mentally unwell woman due to her sexually masochistic tastes. If anything, she is a strong and vibrant female lead, never a one dimensional character. Michelle is completely in control and sexually bold. It certainly is a progressive study of female sexuality.
To claim that it is anti female or demeaning to women is only taking away from the feminine power that Michelle possesses. To accept Michelle and her sexual interests without blaming a mental instability, but accepting that her history has had a lot to do with shaping her sexuality, is empowering. It is one of the finest truly post modern feminist films I have ever seen. Elle is the perfect film to not only inject itself into the intense gender political climate, but to challenge it.
Elle is easily one of my favourite films of the year. A must see!
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