Overall Rating: 3/5

November 11, 2016
Dir. Paul Verhoeven
Rated R (for violence involving sexual assault, disturbing sexual content, some grisly images, brief graphic nudity, and language)

Selected to compete for the Palme d’Or, Elle was one of the most critically acclaimed foreign films of the year. Isabelle Hupert delivers an Oscar-nominated performance in her unique and complicated role as the lead character, Michelle. However, Elle‘s subject matter may prove difficult to stomach for many, and for those that can, there may still be other valid complaints to be had about the film.

This so-called thriller explores the effects of a single event (and the circumstances surrounding it) on a woman as she begins to have a mid-life revelation or awakening of sorts. The film’s strong points are an array and frequent use of character-development techniques (some of which are notably fresh), a story chock-full with moral ambiguity, and the acting prowess with which Hupert embodies the changing protagonist. It is unusual to find these qualities highlighted in a thriller, which is why the pacing and plot delivery may seem peculiar to some. The director clearly wants the audience to understand the character(s) before understanding the plot. Due to the slow pacing, action that moves the plot forward is shocking (not least of all due to the disturbing content). Certain “reveals” are also hard to predict, which is a success.

However, I suspect that many may also find the characters’ decisions hard to relate to or unrealistic; I certainly did. Also, many of the above listed strengths can be interpreted as positive or negative qualities depending on the individual. The fact that the film was really not that enjoyable to me personally is perhaps the best reason I can give for my rating. From the first frame to the last, the audience is asked to endure the unfolding of traumatic events. Whether or not the payoff is worth the task is up to you to decide.


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