Elle review: Paul Verhoeven’s brazen rape revenge comedy is a dangerous delight

Turn off the illuminations and let the horror begin. Paul Verhoevens new movie, Elle, is an outrageous black comedy, volatile and deadly; a movie that opens up with a sexual assault and then cleans off the blood ahead of a posh restaurant dinner. I suppose I was raped, Michelle( Isabelle Huppert) casually statements to her friends, just as the waiter swoops in with a magnum of champagne. A guest at the table flicks a nervous glance at the bottle. He tells, Maybe wait a few minutes before popping that. Likewise one perhaps needs to pause before trumpeting Elle as one of the best images in this years Cannes competition, if only because its implications are so problematic they require more time to be processed. But theres no denying that, in the moment at least, the movie is utterly gripping and endlessly disturbing. In carving a hazardous route through hackneyed genre province, Elle never flags, barely stumbles. Verhoeven, I fear, is pointing his movie straight to Hell. He brazenly dares us to stick with him for the ride. Playing the role of Michele Leblanc, a moneyed Paris games executive, Huppert dedicates a performance of imperious ferocity, holding the audience at bay, virtually goading us to disinherit her. Audaciously, Elle presents her not so much as a victim but as the casualty of a world she is very much a part of; perhaps( still more troublingly) an accessory to. Inside her sleek office, Michele strolls disinterestedly past a scantily-clad model striking a brutalised pose. Her top-selling game allows its user to take the role of a hulk orc rapist, penetrating a damsel from behind with a snaking tentacle. If that werent enough, Michele is revealed to be the daughter of Charles Leblanc, a notorious 1970 s serial murderer , now safely behind bars. There is even a suggestion that she was somehow involved in his crimes. According to Michele, her father was a monster; in the view of her mother( Judith Magre) he was no more than a man. The films implicit suggestion is that human being can be both. Succumb the thought that Verhoevens a safe pair of hands. The director prides himself on discombobulating his audience; maybe even discombobulating himself. In his time, the Dutch provocateur has conspired to seduce the Hollywood mainstream with Basic Instinct, flummoxed it with Starship Troopers and dedicate it a ghastly cold rain with 1995 s Showgirls. Elle, however, may just be his most maniacal work to date, a movie that runs boldly up and down the tonal bandwidth, zig-zagging from pitch-black horror to devilish irony to light domestic comedy and then back again. For lengthy periods, in fact, Verhoevens film appears to forget the rape altogether. Michele clears the broken crockery from the floor, sinks into a bath and then proceeds with their own lives. She has a demanding undertaking to attend to; household problems to address. She is enraged by her milksop son and his bullying pregnant girlfriend. She worries about her vampish mum, who has decided she wants to marry her gigolo. Shes having an ill-advised affair with her colleagues foursquare husband. But all the while the memory of the assault sits quietly in the room, like unstable nitroglycerin beside the cheese-board. Time and again, we catch its full horror in the corner of our eye. Michele, for her component, is draw back to it too. What an electrifying movie to close this years Cannes competition. If the delegates imagined they would be sent off with something gentles and asserting, they had another think going. They sat down in the dark and received a slap in the face, a blatant provocation, a define of jump leads hooked on to their chests. Elle is uproarious, galvanic and guaranteed to trigger debate. All at once it as though this years Cannes, a whisker away from the finishing line, has just roared back into shine, angry life. Read more: www.theguardian.com

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