Dutch director Paul Verhoeven is likely best known to American audiences for the bloody sci-fi adventures Robocop and Starship Troopers and the psycho-thriller Basic Instinct. Others might appreciate more his pre-Hollywood period, when he directed uncompromisingly graphic films set in various historical periods that featured people scarred by choice and circumstances guided day-to-day by their little understood appetites. The French language Elle, which features a remarkable performance by Isabelle Huppert, is a welcome return to that time for fans of Verhoeven’s “foreign” films.  Huppert plays Michele, a middle-aged businesswoman who is raped in her home at the beginning of the film and tries to identify her masked assailant, presumably to get revenge. We discover over the course of the movie that she suffered an unspeakable trauma as a young girl and lives amongst those ruins with her manchild son, Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), her disaster of a cougar mother (Judith Magre) and her professionally stifled ex-husband Richard (Charles Berling). Huppert, who has been nominated for her role as Michele, is in nearly every frame of the picture, including several startling scenes of brutal sexual assaults. These depictions are not for the squeamish and the film’s overall tone might be too dark for many viewers but the story, based on the novel by Phillipe Djian, is provocative and perceptive. Highly recommended.


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