Elle film review: a bizarre but effective revenge comedy as black as the sky on a moonless night

James Luxford

The recent gaff at the Oscars meant a number of films and performances were lost amid the noise. One of them was Elle, which gained a Best Actress nomination for French star Isabelle Huppert.

A favourite of film makers including Michael Haneke, she takes the title role in Paul Verhoeven’s (RoboCop, Starship Troopers, Total Recall) first movie in a decade.

She plays Michele, an emotionally detached tech executive living in the shadow of her father, who committed mass murder when she was a child. When she is sexually assaulted by a mystery assailant, she chooses to work out his identity in secret, as well as managing the various complicated relationships that define her life.

Nothing about this psychological drama is clear cut. The story is centred around a horrific act, yet much of the plot is underpinned by dark humour, mostly from the main character herself. Michele’s pragmatic approach to her life allows us to see her in three dimensions, with no easy answers to the film’s conundrums. A fascinating tale unfolds as a result, where we see what happens when a person who has spent her life refusing to be a victim is so brutally victimised.

Huppert is magnificent presenting a character who is sympathetic without being a traditionally “nice person”. It’s a charismatic and intoxicating mix, an emotional grey area we rarely see. The result is a delightfully dark collaboration between a director and actress both on top form.

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