Elle is an elle of a film.
It's a doozy. Women rule.
Every thriller or suspense film seems to get related to Hitchcock by reviewers. It's usually a stretch -- a reflexive assumption. But Elle actually has Hitchcockian qualities. Director Paul Verhoeven knows the Master.
Like Hitch's films, Elle is full of dualities. It's teeming with Hitchcockian themes: alienation, mistrust of police, role playing, religious obsession, and -- of course -- voyeurism.
But unlike Hitch, Elle at times is muddled and overblown. Some of the scenes go on much longer than the Master would have allowed.
However, on the whole, Elle has a deceptive Hitchcockian depth.
Elle, adapted from the novel by Philippe Djian, is the convoluted tale of Michele (Isabelle Huppert), a woman who is the target of a rapist, who assaults her at different times. She also carries psychological damage from a horrible event that happened in her childhood.
But Michele has endured. She's a survivor and a strong woman. She has money, and with another woman Anna (Anne Consigny) runs a company that creates video games. What Hitch might have done with that!
Michele can be mysterious and misleading.
Her mother (Judith Magre) tells her, "You always wanted a sanitized life."
But Michele has many levels and sides. At one point, while watching a man and an outdoor crèche with binoculars from her window, she masturbates. In Elle, this may not be as silly as it sounds.
Her ex-husband (Charles Berling) says, "The real danger, Michele, is you." And he also asks her, "Another of your traps?"
Is she duplicitous or just wary?
As in the films of Hitchcock, dualities abound in Elle. Two characters have a cut hand, a baby is of two races, two cars are intentionally smashed by Michele -- a bumper of one, a window of another, Michele makes two calls on a cell phone after an accident -- both go to voice mail.
Michele needs to know whether a particular man is circumcised or not? Two choices. A character has sex with a husband and later his wife. A hamster is unharmed during a brutal siege of killing humans and animals, and a young woman tells her boyfriend, "I wouldn't trust you with a hamster."
Two religious statues are carried from the trunk of a car. A character is stabbed by one of the two blades of scissors. A witness has two glowing eyes -- it is a cat.
The final shot of the film is two characters walking away.
Such is the potent use of some of the dualities.
One of the major themes in Elle is that almost all of the men are weak. Men may have status, but women are really in control. Women rule, and men pay the price.
Isabelle Huppert gives a remarkable performance as Michele. With her look of bemusement or coolly pensive, unsettled or ferocious, Michele is an indomitable force.
Director Verhoeven punctures our expectations. Elle is full of surprises. Is Michele going to be murdered by a car?
Elle darts and swerves. It's brutal and banal. Absurd and moving.
It's a cunning movie.