A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)

Isabelle Huppert in Elle
Michèle Leblanc: Isabelle Huppert
Patrick: Laurent Lafitte
Anna: Anne Consigny
Richard Leblanc: Charles Berling
Rebecca: Virginie Efira
Irène Leblanc: Judith Magre
Robert: Christian Berkel
Vincent: Jonas Bloquet
Hélène: Vimala Pons
Ralf: Raphaël Lenglet
Kevin: Arthur Mazet
Kurt: Lucas Prisor

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Screenplay: David Birke, Harold Manning
Based on a novel by Philippe Dijan
Cinematography: Stéphane Fontaine
Production design: Laurent Ott
Music: Anne Dudley

Elle begins with Michèle Lebanc being raped by a man in a ski mask wearing black. He slugs her viciously during the act, and when he finishes, he takes her underwear and wipes himself off, then flings it at her before leaving. Michèle picks herself up and, as the audience silently cries out, "Save the evidence," sweeps up the broken glass and the underwear and dumps it in the trash. The next day she is back at work as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, working on a video game -- she owns the company along with Anna -- that features violent sex, and even urges her programmers to make it more violent. When she finally mentions the rape, in an almost off-hand manner, to her friends, she refuses their advice to go to the police. We learn that Michèle has never trusted law enforcement since she was 10 years old and her father was convicted of the mass murder of a number of children in their neighborhood. Elle is, in short, not a pleasant film, though it begins to take on the character of a thriller as we learn more about Michèle, her family, her ex-husband, and her friends. When we do find out the identity of the rapist, things become even more disturbingly odd. It takes an actress of the caliber of Isabelle Huppert to bring off a role like Michèle, and she remains the chief reason for watching this provocative, disturbing film. Paul Verhoeven has always been a director out to shock, and Elle is hardly an exception in an oeuvre that includes Basic Instinct (1992). But thanks in large part to Huppert, Elle becomes a probing character study, an exploration of the life of a woman whose moral compass was severely damaged by an intensely traumatic past. Huppert's performance, which earned her an Oscar nomination, helps lift the film above sensationalism into something with a solid psychological grounding, but if ever a film merited "trigger warnings," it's this one.


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