Elle: Paul Verhoeven’s First French Film

Paul Verhoeven’s first French language film, Elle, which opens in Canada on November 18, simmers with sexual perversity, betrayal and deception.

This taut psychological thriller, set in contemporary Paris, pits a successful businesswoman against a home invader who assaults her and then proceeds to bombard her with a series of suggestive and taunting text messages to which she becomes addicted.

Michele (Isabelle Huppert), a middle-aged divorcee, is a savvy video game developer. She and a friend co-own the small company that churns out violent, sexually-driven games for an adolescent clientele. Knowing exactly what turns them on, she orders her staff to add yet more blood and gore to the lurid game they’re rushing to finish for the marketplace.

As convincingly portrayed by Huppert, a star of French cinema, Michele is a dowdy and demanding woman who has a life outside her company. She has a boyfriend who’s sexually ravenous. She has a son, a server in a fast food restaurant, who needs a loan to furnish his flat. She has a mother who’s consorting with a man half her age. And she’s still dealing with the emotional fallout of the crimes her father committed three decades ago.

Isabelle Huppert
Isabelle Huppert

Verhoeven skillfully weaves these subplots into the body of the movie, which is mainly about Michele’s test of will with the intruder. Wearing a ski mask and a black outfit, he bursts into her town house and viciously attacks Michele, who fights back.

Strangely enough, she doesn’t report the incident to the police and takes it all in her stride, much to the surprise and puzzlement of her friends. In the meantime, the perpetrator starts sending her text messages, one of which lauds her physical attributes.

Michele is a woman driven by carnal desires. In one revealing scene, for example, she asks an employee, a young man who’s digitally snooping on his fellow workers on her behalf, to expose himself. When he lowers his pants, she’s disappointed he isn’t circumcised. She certainly has her preferences.

Michele’s most perverse preference, however, revolves around kinky sex, the kind that’s likely to end up on and similar sites. And the man who provides this free service, a seemingly respectable fellow who’s married and has a good job, seems to be at her beck and call. You half expect her to break out the kind of material you’d find only on at some points, that’s the level of control she seems to have over him. As they have sex, fists fly, glass breaks and moans and gasps fill the air as a black cat watches pensively from a distance. The whole thing is almost as raunchy as a scene from a film you could find on

Elle unfolds in a high-tech milieu synonymous with the 21st century, but its characters transcend the boundaries of time.

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