Feminist Wiles

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Elle
Roxy
Opens Jan. 13

A drama no one in Hollywood wanted to touch with a 10-foot pole, Elle is perhaps Paul Verhoeven’s career best. Mixing genres with remarkable dexterity, the Dutch director builds the most complex female protagonist of the year.

The credits haven’t even finished rolling when Michele (Isabelle Huppert, never better) is raped at home by an intruder. Reporting the attack is low in her list of concerns: her son is about to move in with his pregnant girlfriend, even though he may not be the baby’s father; her videogame company is developing a product that could make or break her business; and her long-jailed father is up for parole.

You would think Michele is on the edge, but she remains in control and more together than everyone else around her. So much so, that the idea of being powerless becomes a thrilling one (you can figure out where this is going).The men around Michele consistently underestimate her, and she is too wily to correct them. They never see her coming.

A layered mystery with a dollop of black comedy, Elle is very wrong in the best way possible. Aided by Huppert in a bravura performance, Verhoeven still pushes boundaries, but in a way that favours disciplined storytelling over the debauched excesses of earlier films. Elle hints at a number of subplots that go undeveloped, a strategy that keeps the movie in your mind long after departing the theatre.

A superficial reading of Elle may infuriate a portion of the public, but the truth is the film is more feminist than it lets on. Michele refuses to be a victim, no matter the circumstances. The movie walks this tightrope for over two hours, but reaches the other end successfully, head held high.