Elle – A Convoluted Revenge Thriller

Another Oscar-nominated film I haven’t yet seen. Time to do something about that.

Synopsis: Michèle seems indestructible. Head of a successful video game company, she brings the same ruthless attitude to her love life as to business. Being attacked in her home by an unknown assailant changes Michèle’s life forever. When she resolutely tracks the man down, they are both drawn into a curious and thrilling game-a game that may, at any moment, spiral out of control. (SBS Productions)

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, and Anne Consigny.

Writer: David Birke

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Rating: R

Running Time: 130mins

Trailer: 

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The film is being lauded by Isabelle Huppert’s performance, earning her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. The debate about her nomination is for another time and place but she was definitely the best part of the film. Here she played Michèle Leblanc, a videogame company owner who was brutally raped and changing her life. That’s what it appeared since it wasn’t always easy to get a read on her.

Despite what had happened to her, she didn’t want to dwell on it and wanted to live her life. Her life involved many characters, creating a lot of moving parts, making things hard to follow. Michèle played a part in the lives of the people around her, including her best friend Anna (Consigny), her ex-husband Richard (Charles Berling), her neighbor Rebecca (Virginie Efira), and her son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), although she seemed to only use them for her benefit.

They were obviously concerned about her well-being after what happened and wanted her to talk to the police who she didn’t trust after her past as the daughter of a notorious serial killer. She did not always get along with her mother Irène (Judith Magre) who was in denial about getting older. She hated her father but her mother wanted her to visit him for which she was vehemently opposed. The film, however, never elaborated on her past. She had managed to distance herself from it and believed alerting the police would bring her back to that.

She chose to rather handle it on her own but this, just like the other subplots, didn’t really go anywhere. She got attacked a few more times and her investigation and back and forth game were compelling to watch, unfortunately leading to an underwhelming resolution. She instead began to fantasize about her neighbor and Rebecca’s husband Patrick (Lafitte). They had a little affair while Rebecca was gone. Michèle suddenly had a crisis of conscious for some reason which didn’t make sense.

Michèle was supposed to be a strong, independent woman but her actions and motives often did not make sense and/or were hard to follow. She was not the most likable character, making it hard to connect with her on an emotional level. The lack of any character development made it difficult to relate to any of the characters on a personal level. The film broke up some of the darker moments with some comedic moments, working for the most part. The score and the cinematography still kept things interesting.

The story may not have been there but Huppert’s performance was the best part of the film. Michèle appeared to be a complex character whose complexities weren’t explored enough. Huppert was great with a more subtle performance, depicting a stoic, damaged woman, using facial expressions to convey emotion. She had great screen presence which still made her engaging to watch despite her unlikability.

Overall, this was a messy, convoluted revenge drama, lacking character development and was partially saved by a great performance by Isabelle Huppert.

Score: 6.5/10

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