Elle Review

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Paul Verhoeven has been a magnet of controversy dating back all the way to the 80s. From Robocop to Basic Instinct, Verhoeven delighted in challenging and even triggering audiences whenever possible. For decades, his films have left a mark long after the credits start to roll. Although he has reverted back to European cinema in recent years, his latest film, Elle, has been garnering awards buzz in the festival circuits. Is Elle a return to form for the pioneering director or is Elle a film that’s undeserving of all this awards buzz?

Unfortunately, it’s the latter. Elle is a fashionably crafted and well-acted film but there are a lot of faults to be found in this film. It’s listed as a comedy but there are a lot of uncomfortable and unfunny moments in this overly long film that you’ll be glad it’s over when the credits start to roll.

Elle follows Michéle Leblanc who is sexually assaulted in her own home. In her journey to find her assailant, she is willingly pulled into a cat-and-mouse game and, in the process, finds some enlightenment in her professional and personal life.

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When it comes to Paul Verhoeven films, there always seems to be an aura of controversy surrounding it and Elle is no different. The film is, no doubt, an interesting character study but Elle is chock full of abhorrent, unrelatable characters. This is where Elle’s biggest problems lie. Michéle is a despicable person who checks off an entire list of negative female stereotypes. She’s not a nice person by any accounts and the men that occupy her life aren’t the noblest of people either.

This is why Verhoeven crafted the film to be a dark comedy. He uses pitch black comedy in order to alleviate the existence of these characters. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to work out either. Audiences would need to have a twisted sense of humor in order to find some of the elements in the film as funny. At the very least, you’ll get at least one big chuckle with a particular sitcomy scene but as a whole, you’ll be sitting there bored without a smile on your face.

That’s because the film’s disastrously long runtime that’s unreasonably rife with dull moments. With as many characters as there are in the film, Elle gives every character a piece of the runtime with their very own storyline. These subplots are supposed to give audiences clues as to who raped Michéle, but it ultimately overcrowds the film and elongates the runtime. Some subplots are more interesting than others but Michéle’s interaction with everyone is less than effective.

Especially with the way that Verhoeven and editor Job ter Burg sloppily edits the film. The journey to find out who raped Michéle is drawn out and plays out like a Scooby-Doo episode. When the “monster” is finally revealed, the emotional impact doesn’t land and the film still continues. Sadly, the film drags on some more and progressively gets worse and worse.

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Despite the characters that we are dealt with, the film’s cast plays these reprehensible characters to perfection. Chief among them is Isabelle Huppert who elevates the material far better than it deserves. She’s able to take this extremely complicated character and portray her Michéle with great poise.

As for the men in her life, Laurent Lafitte is incredibly charming as Patrick. He exudes a quality to him that’s similar to James Bond or Christian Grey. By contrast, Charles Berling portrays Richard Leblanc as a timid and tormented soul. Anne Consigny and Virginie Efira have small roles in the film but their presence is essential to Michéle’s journey. These two actresses portray their characters in a more upbeat fashion and provide the film with its most relatable characters.

Overall, Elle is a messy film filled with deplorable characters. Despite Verhoeven’s efforts to craft the film as a dark comedy, he shifts focus constantly and is unsure of whether he wanted Elle to be a mystery thriller, a dark comedy, or a drama. It’s got all of the above and yet none of them mesh well together. At one time, Paul Verhoeven was considered to be a pioneer as a filmmaker, but nowadays what he considers a fresh idea is nothing but a poorly-paced endeavor.

Rating: 2.5/5 atoms
NR 2_5 Atoms - C-

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