As I left the cinema after watching Elle, I pondered upon the confusing mess of a movie I had just seen. The story follows Michele (Isabelle Huppert) as she goes about her daily life following a brutal rape from an unknown assailant in her home. In the opening moments of the movie we’re introduced to Michèle as a victim in a helpless state, at the mercy of her attacker as her cat watches on nonplussed. As the movie progresses we soon learn that she is in fact a cruel and stoic woman who victimises her family members and preys upon the trust of her friends. She relishes violence in her job as the CEO for a games company, declaring a brutal cutscene where a female character is slammed face first into a desk as too tame.
As the movie progresses there’s an absence of plot or character development. Characters go about their mundane lives with the typical drama that tends to live within families and tight knit groups. I wasn’t bored because Michèle herself is a fairly interesting character to watch, randomly spilling personal facts about her life to strangers and exhibiting random acts of cruelty against the people who seem to love her despite her harsh bite. There is an undercurrent throughout the movie of Michèle trying to track down the man who raped her and a reveal of a dark secret hidden in her past but no coherent flow tying scenes together or indicating any kind of greater message. The identify of the rapist doesn’t seem to matter to the story and could have been replaced with any other character without an impact.
I would have given the movie an average review, because despite not getting much from it, I wasn’t bored during the 2 hours I spent watching Elle. At the conclusion of the movie I was ready to leave Michèle’s life and never think of it again. But because I was writing this review I forced myself to think deeper about what the writer might have been trying to tell me. Unfortunately what I found lowered my opinion of Elle as it seems like a shallow take on morality. There is a theme of rebirth mirrored in the game that Michèle’s studio is developing where a character starts in a sexy costume, and is reborn after a tentacle penetration to the brain (subtle imagery) as a more modestly dressed character. Michèle’s limited character development seems to mirror this as she discards immoral and non traditional sexuality in favour of friendship and family. It’s a theme that seems at best shallow, and at worst, deeply disturbing.
I will give the movie points for how genuine the characters felt. The family drama beautifully echoed the flawed, emotional humanness you see in real families The acting was also excellent, particularly Isabelle Huppert’s portrayal of Michèle. Huppert carries herself with a charisma and poise that makes her engaging to watch, even while playing such an unlikeable character.
If you’re expecting a titillating thriller you’ll be likely disappointed with how mundane Elle is despite having themes of extreme violence. It’s hard to know who to recommend this movie to as from a surface view I found it messy and lacking in direction, while a deeper dive left me feeling it was trite. It may appeal to people-watchers who enjoy small stories that present the day to day intrigues of society. For anyone else, I would recommend to skip this one.