The film is riotously funny, and Isabelle Huppert has never been better.
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Elle doesn't always maintain the clever balance of naughtiness and dramatic confrontations that make it such an appealingly unconventional romp.
Elle would be unimaginable without Huppert, who delivers a performance of such virtuosity that she turns what is essentially a raving sociopath into one of the most alluring protagonists in recent memory.
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.
The list of the film’s transgressions against the culturally acceptable is almost gratuitously long. But the spine of self-aware intelligence that runs through even its most grotesque, exploitative, and offensive twists, and the basically incredible, irreplaceable central performance from Isabelle Huppert, make this queasily hilarious mass of contradictions just about cohere.
There is much to like about Elle, first and foremost a witty and bold performance from Huppert and the generally seasoned ensemble.
It’s all quite perverse for sure, which of course is no surprise coming from either the actress or the director, though what’s welcome about Elle is the way they combine their talents to make a film that hardly skimps on the sex, violence and sadism, yet ultimately tells a story about how one woman uses them all to set herself free.
This audacious, irony-laced, convention-jumbling tale is just plain fun to watch.
Elle forces you to critically confront every myth it indulges, every cliché it embraces and subverts.
The film is utterly gripping and endlessly disturbing.