Isabelle Huppert’s Elle:
Hard minded amorality
Philippe Djian’s perverse story featuring a French screen goddess
By Luc Archambault
Paul Verhoeven, the director of Elle, is no stranger to scandal. He already has under his belt Robocop (1987), Basic Instinct (1992), Showgirls (1995) and Starship Troopers (1997) among others. Here, he adapts the novel Oh! by Philippe Djian (who co-writes the script), a sordid story about a professional woman, played by Isabelle Huppert, being raped by an unknown assailant. She reacts stoically, as ruthless as ever, with her friends, with her subordinates, with her son and her ex-husband.
Paul Verhoeven has, in his past films, preferred to show the tough, hard-mindedness of characters, both male and female.
Having first tried to shoot this story in the U.S., Verhoeven had to adapt himself to the stark reality: no U.S. actress would play this role, in all its immorality. He then approached Isabelle Huppert, a famous French actress, who readily accepted. And he decided to film this story in French, in Paris, close to the original storyline as written by Philippe Djian.
The choice of Isabelle Huppert is not surprising. For those with a cinematic eye, it is noteworthy to remember Michael Hanneke’s La Pianiste (2001), in which she played a perverse piano teacher living with her deranged mother. Huppert’s ice-cold eyes, demeanour and high-pitched voice were spot on for that role. But is she as well cast for this one?
Paul Verhoeven has, in his past films, preferred to show the tough, hard-mindedness of characters, both male and female. His quest seems to follow him yet again, both in the character of Michèle and in his choice of the ice-queen of French cinema, Isabelle Huppert.
Fortunately, the choice of Isabelle Huppert seems to have been made in heaven. There is a downright Oscar-buzz for Huppert’s depiction of ‘Michèle’. But, in my view, this role is not as well defined as the one she played in La Pianiste.
In fact, the script of Elle has some gaping holes in it, notwithstanding its lacklustre ending. This movie does not end, it simply fizzles out. As an Oscar would be a reward well deserved by Isabelle Huppert, it would not be however for this role alone, but for her body of work. In all fairness, if she does win an Oscar, it will be mainly because of the roll of the dice by Paul Verhoeven, who decided to, against all odds, film a perverse story in French with a goddess of the screen, a harpy of an actress, Isabelle Huppert.
Images: Guy Ferrandis/ SBS Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Writer and journalist, globe-trotter at heart, passionate about movies, music, literature and contemporary dance, came back to Montreal to pursue his unrelenting quest for artistic meaning.