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ELLE | Nov 11, 2016 | Paul Verhoeven is back with acclaimed rape-revenged thriller

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The Hollywood Reporter

BOTTOM LINE: A beautiful dark twisted French fantasy


To say that Elle is Paul Verhoeven’s classiest work to date is perhaps an overstatement, especially for a movie about a rape victim who gets her rocks off every time she comes face-to-face with her assailant. But we are after all dealing with the director behind such subversive classics as Basic Instinct and Showgirls – both of them powerful women’s movies, despite what the naysayers may claim – so the bar in terms of sophistication and chic is not necessarily all that high.

Yet for his first feature film in ten years, and his first one ever en français, the Dutch auteur has teamed up with the great Isabelle Huppert to craft a tastefully twisted mid-to-late-life crisis thriller that’s both lasciviously dark and rebelliously light on its feet – a story about a 50-something woman who is dealt several blows over the course of a few months and fights back with authority, mockery and a fat can of pepper spray. It’s as if Michael Haneke woke up one morning, took his funny pills, and decided to make a sadistic French farce, and the result is a movie that will finally bring Verhoeven back into the spotlight after nearly a decade’s absence.


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Screen International 


Bottom Line: 

This audacious, irony-laced, convention-jumbling tale is just plain fun to watch.



Paul Verhoeven has never been afraid of depicting narrative complexity or violence in Dutch, in English and now in French. Cannes Competition entry Ellefeatures a tour de force turn from Isabelle Huppert whose self-assured-and-aloof register is a perfect fit with Verhoeven’s taste for far-fetched human behaviour presented as plausible. Suspenseful and unsettling from first frame to last, this delectably twisted tale of a woman who reacts in unconventional ways to being raped by an intruder would appear to have commercial potential wherever adults go to the movies.


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High-risk material yields unexpected rewards in this remarkable rape-revenge drama, a possible career high for Paul Verhoeven.

You’ve never seen a rape-revenge fantasy quite like “Elle,” not least because the rape, revenge and fantasy components of that subgenre have never been quite so fascinatingly disarranged. Knowingly incendiary but remarkably cool-headed, and built around yet another of Isabelle Huppert’s staggering psychological dissections, Paul Verhoeven’s long-awaited return to notional genre filmmaking pulls off a breathtaking bait-and-switch: Audiences arriving for a lurid slab of arthouse exploitation will be taken off-guard by the complex, compassionate, often corrosively funny examination of unconventional desires that awaits them. Sony Pictures Classics boldly scooped the U.S. rights for this many-layered provocation, the commercial returns of which may be enhanced by a flame-war of heated journalistic thinkpieces left in its wake. Whatever the upshot of those, the film itself — perhaps the greatest of Verhoeven’s storied career — is bracingly resistant to essentialist conclusions.


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Cannes: A Fest of Few Lows, But Only One Real High


A sluggish Cannes competition closed on a triumphant note with Paul Verhoeven's brilliant dark comedy about a rape victim, while American entries ranged from strong (early Oscar contender 'Loving') to embarrassing (why, Sean Penn?)

The Cannes Film Festival went out with a literal and figurative bang over the weekend in the form of Paul Verhoeven’s sensationally good Elle, supplying those still left on the Croisette with the sort of thing they’d been missing for the previous ten days: a movie to get all worked up about.

Filming with immaculate elegance and sharp wit, the 77-year-old Dutch director showed that he has not mellowed with age; if anything, he has sharpened his subversive edges in this story about a mature woman’s complex reactions to being raped. It was, in retrospect, perhaps predictable that Elle proved too hot for the jury to touch (the movie went home empty-handed).

Verhoeven, who reliably got a rise out of audiences with the likes of Turkish DelightThe 4th ManRoboCopBasic Instinct and, it must be mentioned, Showgirls, eats controversy for breakfast and will definitely find it in the United States, where he originally intended to make this film — until he concluded that no American actress was likely to take the title role. Instead, he improved his French, set up the production in France and guided Isabelle Huppert to as fine a screen performance as she’s ever given.


What will upset many people about the film’s approach is that it does not conform to the conventional notion that there is just one way to react to this extreme violation. For various reasons that involve her past experiences and current status, the response of Huppert’s character is highly ambiguous.

The arrival of this ultra-stylish and beautifully modulated film at the very end of the festival was quite a surprise, given that nothing had yet appeared that flipped everyone’s switches to such an extent. To be sure, there had been outrage and plenty of it, but mostly over the preponderance of unworthy films, not their subject matter.


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