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Elle - Exclusive to Cinema Paradiso and Luna on SX

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by Desiree Walsh (subscribe)
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Intense, daring and brave

Please note this review contains spoilers.

Elle is a French/German/Belgian psychological thriller, although there is some gesturing around what film genre it really fulfils. Directed by Paul Verhoeven, written adaptation by David Birke Elle and stars Isabelle Huppert as Michele. Isabelle Huppert has been reputably described as "a brilliant actress, giving a brilliant performance" in Elle and both accolades true. Filmed predominantly in Paris and Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the action is shot using two cameras simultaneously. Elle was critically acclaimed at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and was selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Language film at the 89th Academy Awards.

The film is adapted from the novel "Oh ...." by Philippe Djian. "Oh" is the utterance of surprise, pain, utterance, and exclamation or/and disapprobation. "Oh" is also the sound made upon recognition of meaning, the book found the reader using all of these versions of oh's. The film does follow the author's original lead and shares the novel's deliberate creation of ambiguity, including the leaving of gaps for the audience to fill. The film does not assume the audience has knowledge, it knows the audience does not, and uses that lag in catch-up for effect.

Michele (Huppert) is an independent, intelligent, successful and strong woman. In partnership with her girlfriend Anna (Anne Consigny), they head and operate a profitable video game company. The film commences when Michele is raped at home by an unknown assailant. Both the story and the main character can be dark yet rebellious and the story tells of her complicated and somewhat controversial response and her emancipation from that space. There were moments in the cinema when muffled gasps came from audience members, I think they were the sounds of a flux of moral judgment and politically correct morality being released. I know I caught a couple of the later before that muffle came out.

Elle certainly inspires debate.

Michele is surrounded by irrational rotating relationships which all become part of the dysfunctional setting. Michele is divorced from Richard (Charles Berling), although there is some unfinished business there. They share a son, Vincent (Jonas Bloquet). The young man is a little lost, but nevertheless pins his esteem on the thought he will be a great father and for that opportunity he will endure his girlfriend's verbal abuse. He will even deny the obvious observation that he is not the biological father.

Robert (Christian Berkel) is Anna's the business partner/girlfriend's husband, both of whom seem to be Michele's friends with benefits. Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) and the religious Rebecca (Virginie Efira) are the married neighbours from across the street. Michele is keeping her sexual attraction to Patrick to herself.

Irene (Judith Magre) is Michele's mother, who has a fondness for young men and that is not the only thing causing strain in their relationship as her mother has a constant need to nag Michele into visiting her father in prison. One has to assume this has gone on for as long as the last thirty years. Michelle father's sins are still being visited upon his family.

It is easy to assume that Michele is seeking revenge, although I think that misses the film's point. Elle is about resilience, about seeking acceptance of oneself, regaining of control through projective and perceptive means.

Elle is in a suspended moment of victimhood, Michele now faces the legacy of two crimes neither hers. Hubbert's own take on Michele is that she "doesn't want to be a victim, so instead of becoming "an object" after she is raped, she immediately has the instinct to turn herself into a subject.

Instead of being submitted to what she was confined to, she wanted to take control of that thing". That view is in line with the film's portrayal. "Elle" is French for she. "She" is third person but it is also a singular person pronoun meaning both subject and object. Therefore, only object when it is used to fill a word space.

In Elle's case; the overall theme and narrative follows its title singular person pronoun, object when she is used to fill a space. This follows the feminist dichromic object men do/women are.

Objects are subject to definitions, subjects' define the perception, leaving the object burdened by circumstances over which they have no control. Grand narratives or dichotomies' frame stories and all characters within are meant to behave within the role assigned. Let's face it, we all welcome concrete conclusions that preexisting framing of the debate produce. But it is often because of that very process concrete conclusions equate to rhetoric.

Concrete conclusions are rhetorically effective and memorable, but they suffer from an absence of the truth, because the personal experience and individual realities are removed.

"Elle" is Michele's truth, her experience, her reality, she is her own singular person pronoun. Elle is effective and memorable but in its own way.

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*Desiree Walsh was invited as a guest
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Why? endangers and questions your perceptions
When: Season commences 27 October
Where: Cinema Paradiso & Luna on SX
Cost: concessions start at $14.50
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