Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Elle (4 Stars)


The worst possible crime that can be committed against a woman.

Murder is less harmful. If a woman is killed her suffering is over. If she's raped she suffers psychological damage for the rest of her life.

Additional harm comes from others, mostly from other men, whether they're the police, friends or casual acquaintances. The questions are always the same. "Was it really rape? Are you sure you didn't want it? Did you provoke the man?"

"Elle" begins with a rape, in the first seconds of the film, immediately after the credits. The rape scene is repeated in later flashbacks, first exactly as it happened, then an idealised version in which the victim imagines what she should have done to fight back. How often do rape victims play back the incident in their head? Every day for the rest of their lives?

The victim is Michèle LeBlanc, a 49-year-old businesswoman, rich, independent and self-confident. How could this happen to someone like her?

The truth is that it can happen to any woman.

After the attack, which takes place in her own home, Michèle acts as if nothing has happened. She takes a bath. She sweeps up the broken crockery in her living room. She doesn't report the incident to the police. She doesn't even tell her friends about it until a few days later. The only action that she takes which is directly connected to the rape is to visit a doctor to be checked for sexually transmitted diseases.

If Michèle wants to forget the rape, she can't. Over the next few weeks the rapist sends her messages, taunting her, suggesting he will do it again. She has to take steps to protect herself. Pepper spray, a gun and an axe. Yes, an axe. It's only a little axe, but big enough to make sure her assailant never rapes any woman again.

By this point in the film it seems like we can expect a typical rape'n'revenge thriller like "I spit on your grave", but the film heads in a different direction. The film slowly, painstakingly shows us every facet of Michèle's life.

Michèle is the owner of a software company that makes violent adventure games for Playstation 4. Her business partner is her best friend Anna, who she met in hospital when both women had a baby on the same day. Michèle is having an affair with Anna's husband.

Michèle's ex-husband is dating a young woman, a university student.

Michèle's mother is dating a man young enough to be her grandson.

Michèle's son is engaged to a woman who's unfaithful to him. He refuses to believe that her baby isn't his, even though the skin colour should have given it away.

Michèle's father is in prison after being convicted of killing 27 people when she was 10. He's one of France's best known serial killers. At the time of the murders Michèle was accused of aiding her father, but she was too young to be held responsible.

Who is the rapist? Why is he taunting her? The mystery slowly unravels before our eyes.

This is the director Paul Verhoeven's first film for 10 years, and his first ever film made in French. For the last 30 years he's been making big budget films for international audiences. films like "Basic Instinct", "Robocop", "Hollow Man" and "Starship Troopers". "Elle" is a return to his roots as an independent film maker. Even the simple, unadorned opening credits give the film an indy feel, and this atmosphere is strengthened by the sparse use of background music. The film reminds me, stylistically, of "The Fourth Man", which he made in 1983.

This is an excellent film, not easy to classify, but spellbinding from beginning to end. It's a film I need to see again.

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