Elle is impeccably filmed and edited with stellar acting performances that grasp the attention of the audience. It intends to shock, infuriate and rile up the viewer.
However, it must come with a warning: this film could act as a serious trigger for anyone who has experienced domestic abuse or rape and as an insult to those of us who actively fight against women’s oppression.
In a crude, sexist and macabre way the film attempts to poke fun at and play with the relationship between the rapist and his victim. It portrays the rapist as a friendly guy next door who then turns into a ravenous sexual predator. He breaks through Elle’s (Isabelle Huppert) window, covered with a black sock mask, and rapes her, all while Elle’s furry, pudgy, grey cat watches and meows forlornly. It just isn’t funny.
Elle is a wealthy, talented and successful director of a company that produces pornified video games, and her experience of being raped is reflected in her company’s most recent project. She is also the victim of sexual harassment by one of her employees and faces reoccurring attacks from her neighbour.
At one moment Elle could become a revenge film: she stabs the rapist in the hand with a scissor while he penetrates her. But it fails by miles and miles to live up to the heights of revenge films like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as Elle then invites the rapist to accompany her to the opening party for her video game. In the end it serves to reinforce some of the most vile, sexist stereotypes that women in some way invite or encourage harassment and rape.
The characters in the film are rich and spoiled and it is a reminder that rich people have problems too. But the alienation in this film is far removed from the alienation experienced by ordinary people and it left me with a sour taste in my mouth and without a sense of having learned anything, laughed or cried.
Even film buffs and fans of Isabelle Huppert’s incredible performance in Michael Heneke’s The Piano Teacher should strongly consider staying away from this film. Despite its skilful execution, it lacks the insight and tenacity that would be required to deal with such a sensitive topic as women’s oppression and rape in a thoughtful and considerate way. It will only leave you at best disappointed and at worse sickened.