Director: Paul Verhoeven
Writer: David Birke
Based on: Philippe Djian‘s novel Oh…
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Judith Magre, Christian Berkel
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 27.10.2016
Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) is the head of a video game company. Successful, rich, happily divorced with two grown children, Michèle has a great life. But that is disrupted when an intruder brutally assaults and rapes her in her home. Afterwards Michèle struggles to get her life back under control, by alternatively pretending that nothing happened and buying various weapons. And it may very well be that this encounter with the rapist won’t be her last.
In the hands of another writer and director, Elle might have been a film that was smart about the difficult topic it approaches and that I would have actually liked. But I absolutely hated the film we got. SO MUCH HATE.
There are two ways I could have liked the film. One, if Verhoeven/Birke had only tackled the Christmas party Michèle is throwing for her family and neighbors, leaving all the rape stuff aside, because that scene was absolutely hilarious and I wouldn’t have minded if it had been drawn out into feature length. And the other way was if a writer/director team (maybe actually – radical idea – women themselves) with some psychological sensitivity who know what they’re talking about had tackeld the rape stuff.
Because it could have been interesting. It is later revealed in the film that the rapist is Michèle’s neighbor Patrick (Laurent Lafitte). Michèle then starts an affair with him where the sex becomes very violent indeed. And of course, one way for Michèle to get control back of her life (and that is one of the biggest issues with rape for the survivors) is to control, basically, when she’s being raped. If she goes looking for Patrick, she won’t have to worry about him surprising her again.
But that is not the narrative that the film tells. Instead Michèle is being stylized into a psychopath – and she’s always been categorized as one, because, as it’s revealed in one of the more ludicrous turns of events in a film that is full of stupid decisions, her father was a mass murderer and she had to help him. Even though she was only 10-years-old, apparently that made her a psychopath in the eyes of everyone. And I just don’t buy it. Maybe if she had been a little older, but even so… what we get here is the conflation of probably harmful survival strategies with (heavily stigmatized and sensationalized) mental illness and just… no. Especially since I actually heard comments from people in the audience afterwards that this film was about “an ice-cold business woman who actually wants to get beaten and who loves getting raped”. And, dammit, if that is the take-away for some people from your film about a rape survivor who gets into a (problematic) BDSM relationship afterwards, YOU’RE DOING EVERYTHING WRONG.
It’s been a very, very long time that I felt so tortured by watching a film and that I considered – several times – to just get up and leave. I don’t know why I didn’t, but I can urge you not to repeat my mistake. Just stay away.