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Elle Leaves an Impression

Sofia Sheehan, '17, Editor

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It’s been a very long time since I saw a movie as violent and disturbing as Elle without losing its true purpose in the midst of it all. Elle tells the story of a French video game company head who is sexually assulted in her home. Due to a past childhood trauma, she refuses to go to the police and instead takes matters into her own hands.

Isabelle Huppert plays the main character, Michele, a strong and often unlikable character. An American director making this kind of film would probably be inclined to make Michele into a feminist hero for all women to look up to. This is not the case in Verhoeven’s film. Michele does things that no one can approve of like carry on an affair with her best friend and business partner’s husband and her involvement with her father as a young girl is also fairly questionable. Verhoeven is able to make Michele human with all these flaws without demonizing or making the audience believe that this rape was a justified act against her.

Only Isabelle Huppert could play this role for in her career she has been no stranger to these types of roles as “unlikable” women. In her role in Claude Chabrol’s Story of Women, she plays someone who in our cinéma would be given heroic character and nothing else as one of the last woman to be guillotined for giving women abortions during World War II. This character is layered and therefore makes questionable decisions as a wife and mother along with providing a much needed service to women in need.

Later in the 90s, Huppert began exploring “unlikable” women much more starting with her role in Chabrol’s La Ceremonie which is based on the story of the Papin sisters, French maids who mercilessly killed the mistress and daughter of the house. Huppert played the instigator of the crime giving little redeeming qualities but a richness to the characters rarely seen in American films. She has since gone on to play characters in The Piano Teacher, one of the greatest emotionally difficult films of all time as she battles strained parental relationships, unconventional desires, and abusive tendencies. Huppert can do it all and makes this newest performance the best of the year (male or female).

The director, Paul Verhoeven, who has had a mixed bag of career with the critically acclaimed Robocop, the widely popular Basic Instinct, and the critical and box office flop Showgirls, but makes this film the defining one of his career. He has made a constantly violent, exciting, and at times funny thriller that does not make the violent theme the movies singular focus. This is a complicated story.

Along with the sexual abuse, Michele has to deal with a mother who dates men much too young for her and is constantly getting more plastic surgeries, a son who lets his crazy and manipulative pregnant girlfriend decide his life, an ex who may finally be finding someone better than her, and employees undermining her at every turn. Verhoeven and Huppert sculpt a sophisticated story that remains personal while confronting traditional gender roles.

Throughout the film, the men act with traditional “feminine” characteristics. They are often weak and indecisive needing a member of the opposite sex to help them along. Michele’s son is constantly asking her for money and doing whatever his girlfriend says and her husband begs for a chance to write a videogame for her. Meanwhile, the women of the film act with traditional “masculine” characteristics. They are strong and emotionally closed off as Michele often has a hard time sharing the story of her rape and when she does, she does so completely nonchalantly.

Elle may be hard to watch but it is a must see from the European masters, Verhoeven and Huppert, who could teach our cinéma to create real female characters rather than “likable” ones.

The student newspaper of Strath Haven High School. The Panther Press is first and foremost a reflection of the opinions and interests of the student body. For this reason, we do not publish any anonymous or teacher-written submissions, and we do not discriminate against any ideology or political opinion. While we are bound by school policy (and funding), we will not render any article neutral, although individual points may be edited for obscene or inflammatory content. Finally, the articles published in the Panther Press do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or advisors.
Elle Leaves an Impression