The presence of Oscar nominee Isabelle Huppert probably makes me think that Elle is more Michael Haneke than it is, but echoes of the Austrian master of bourgeois cringe are too loud to ignore in this French production from Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven.
The close-up establishing shots of a nice house on the edges of Paris (not a flat); the jangling of window shutters; the surveillance; the disruption of bourgeois certainties; dinner parties from hell; foreboding texts, car scrapes, flashbacks to childhood… all of these have become part of the art-house mainstream since Haneke first employed his tactics in Funny Games, Code Inconnu and Hidden
Huppert, who often collaborates with Haneke, but not in any of the above, is magnificent in this, as Michele, a woman raped in the film’s opening but who gets on with her well-heeled life as boss of a video game company, only letting her best friends know of her ordeal (or was it not an ordeal?) during a dinner at a nice brasserie.
Instead she lets out her anger on those close to her, having sex with her business partner’s husband, being cruel to her ex-husband and organising a Christmas dinner of glacial awkwardness, including the new neighbours (the husband of which Michele plays footsy during grace).
Michele is a wonderful creation, Huppert’s work building on Verhoeven’s direction and the original novel Oh, by Philippe Djian. She’s a Mona Lisa of revenge, her motives uncertain, her next move a mystery. You admire her, pity her, fear her and find yourself on the edge of disapproval yet with no real moral leg to stand on.
I love Emma Stone who won the Oscar this year, of course, but don’t tell me she was better than Huppert (or ever will be).