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TIFF 2016: ‘Elle’ Takes The Director Of RoboCop To Shocking New Places

Who’s Behind It

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, Written by David Birke, based on the novel by Philippe Djian.

Who’s In It

Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, and Christian Berkel.

Who’ll Love It

Fans of Paul Verhoeven’s sleazy side (Basic Instinct, most of his early Dutch films), who are also willing to get cerebral about taboo subjects and break free from genre conventions.

What’s It About

As Elle begins, we hear (but definitely don’t see) a home invasion that culminates in rape. After the masked attacker leaves, his victim calmly cleans up her apartment and continues with her life as the CEO of a successful video game company without contacting the police. In the aftermath of this brutal assault, Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) develops a bizarre obsession with her attacker, hungry for both revenge—and a reunion. On top of this unsettling confusion, she’s having an affair with her best friend’s husband, her son has a newborn child he clearly didn’t parent, her elderly mother’s engaged to a man many decades her junior, and her father’s a notorious murderer facing parole.

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Why You Should See It

Director Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers) has been ruffling feathers for over 40 years with his unique brand of provocation. Now 78, he has managed to deliver one of his most thought-provoking, taboo-busting films to date. While Elle lacks the dramatic impact of Verhoeven’s last film (2006’s Black Book) and the colourful flourishes of his Hollywood blockbusters, it features his most complex protagonist to date. Some of Michèle’s story plays out along genre lines—with all the shock and suspense you’d expect—but she’s far more than just a victim. Rather than present her as a tragic figure incapable of anything but suffering and revenge, Verhoeven allows her to develop beyond the parameters of the film’s core mystery (which is solved relatively early) through her many unhealthy relationships. Those disturbed by the politically incorrect premise will find no shortage of fuel for the fire, but Verhoeven, writer David Birke, and star Isabelle Huppert keep complicating our understanding of the film’s issues. The result is an unusually bold, original, and uncompromising thriller.

When You Can See It

Friday, September 9 at 5:30pm (Elgin – VISA Screening Room); Saturday, September 10 at 9:00am (TIFF Bell Lightbox). Tickets available here. Opens November 18. Watch the intense trailer below.

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