In my review for Things to Come, I called Isabelle Huppert the greatest actress in the world. I don’t think I have ever uttered something more truthful, and my belief in this fact is only amplified by the fact that Huppert is frequently beyond outstanding in nearly everything she does. Perhaps it is her performance in Elle that will truly define her career and prove to the world that she is an infinitely talented actress that isn’t worthy of just any film. Isabelle’s Huppert’s performance in Elle isn’t just a great performance – it is a towering, mesmerizing and truly intense performance that will be remembered for eons to come as one of the most challenging yet flawlessly effortless performances by an actress in history.
In Elle, Isabelle Huppert plays Michèle Leblanc, the CEO of an independent video game company that undergoes a very challenging event – she is assaulted and raped in her home by a masked assailant – and she comes to terms with the fact that she was the victim of a terrible crime – yet instead of being logical and going to the police about it (considering her past – she is the daughter of a serial killer), she decides to take matters into her own hands, and she grows increasingly fascinated with the identity of the man who continuously breaks into her home and tries to rape her – and what follows is a psychologically thrilling game of cat-and-mouse, where Michèle uses her cunning and unique disposition to find out who it is that keeps assaulting her.
There is so much to discuss about Elle. First of all, let’s look at the person behind the camera – Paul Verhoeven may not be as acclaimed as his contemporaries, but he certainly has shown to have the audacity to match their talents. Through films like Total Recall, RoboCop, Showgirls and Starship Troopers, Verhoeven managed to display how outlandish and strange cinema can actually be, and created films as bizarre as they were entertaining, and while they may have been sometimes overly violent, intensely risqué or foul in nature, they were original and interesting, and Verhoeven may not be seen as a traditional auteur, but he certainly did manage to make unique films. Elle is Verhoeven at his best – keeping his same outrageous cinematic flair while making a truly classy and intellectual film. It is Verhoeven’s most cerebrally-challenging film, and he does a superb job of bringing this film to life and giving it some deeper meaning that is unheard of with this kind of film.
Now onto the true icon of this film – I have an undying adoration of Isabelle Huppert. I am unable to express what a truly magnificent actress she is, and I feel like we are unworthy of her talents – and I struggle to come to terms with the fact that she is so talented. She is utterly superb in everything she does – but Elle takes her to the very next level, and if anything, will make her more of a household name. It only took several decades and an incredibly large and diverse filmography, but finally, Huppert is starting to be noticed by the mainstream, and while I wouldn’t dare imply that she would ever dare sell out as an actress, it just gives her more visibility and more fame, and in an industry where actresses are the objects of fascination for being very young and wearing very little, to see an actress like Isabelle Huppert achieve some popular acclaim is wonderful.
This is just a testament to her powerful and towering performance in Elle. It is her greatest creation, a complex and incredibly precise portrait of an assured but conflicted woman who undergoes a massive tragedy and is forced to face what comes next. Huppert is just beyond perfection in this film – and she gives one of the most incredible performances of the 21st century. Everything about her is just utterly unbelievable, and I am so glad that Huppert’s performance is making waves around the world, because very rarely does a 63-year-old French actress in a psychological thriller from a Dutch director achieve much attention from anyone other than the most rabid cinephiles. Seeing Huppert win awards for this role actually gives me hope that there does exist a faction of the film awarding community that is truly dedicated to rewarding true originality and creativity.
I know the alpha and omega of Elle‘s publicity has been centered around Huppert – and for good reason, as she is beyond incredible in the film. However, many seem to forget that this film actually does have a supporting cast, and a very good one at that. Christian Berkel is menacing as the man Michèle serves as a mistress to. Anne Consigny is expressive and emotional as Michèle’s best friend, and Charles Berling is underused but effective as Michèle’s ex-husband. There are two wonderful performances in this film as well – Laurent Lafitte as Michèle’s neighbour who she has a morbid sexual fascination with, and Jonas Bloquet as Michèle’s stubborn but loving son. The supporting cast of Elle may not be perfect, and they may all just exist to complement Huppert’s indelible performance, but they are very good in their own ways, and while it is easy to just focus on Huppert, it is important to note that other actors in this film are also very good and deserve acclaim as well (but not as much as Huppert, because she deserves a sainthood for this performance).
Elle has a far deeper meaning than the rape thriller it comes across as. It is a film about redemption and in a strange way, forgiveness. Dark and often incredibly hilarious (I never thought I’d use the word “hilarious” to describe a film where the main theme is rape), it is a film with a hidden agenda – to show that the human mind may not always act in the way one would expect, and that sometimes, we act irrationally, perhaps because of our past, or perhaps because we are just stubborn, but most of all, because deep down, all of us do enjoy living dangerously and being curious to see what will happen if we act contrary to the way society and the media portrays us to act. Elle is a long film – it is over two hours long, but it would’ve been concluded fairly early if Michèle had actually just gone to the police – in fact, it would’ve been an incredibly short film. However, it is an exploration of the human mind and how our decisions and actions may sometimes change the course of life, both ours and the lives of others.
I adored Elle. It is a complex, incredibly well-made and very satisfying film about revenge and redemption. It is such a unique film – what other film begins with a brutal rape scene and ends with a melancholic musing on love and life past? I applaud Paul Verhoeven, screenwriter David Birke and the cast, which is led so spectacularly by Isabelle Huppert, for making such an amazing film that is without a doubt one of the very best of the year. It may not be an easy film to watch, but it is certainly an amazing one, there isn’t any doubt about that.