The key for me to understand Paul Verhoeven’s immaculate craft is to understand the communities in which he has made his art. The Dutch master began with tales of love, lust and anguish in European art films, taking his aesthetic to Hollywood with a series of often sardonic blockbusters that served two masters – the audience and the artist – in equal measure. Returning to Europe he brought the techniques and professionalism of Hollywood with him, crafting a true gem of a work with Black Book, easily one of the finest films of his remarkable career.
With Elle Verhoeven has shifted once again, this time into French territory. Employing the rapturously talented Isabelle Huppert, Verhoeven and his screenwriter David Birke take Philippe Dijan’s play Oh… into twisted and compelling directions, forcing the audience to confront some very uncomfortable factors while witnessing the catharsis wrought by revenge.
From its earliest images the film demands attention, twisting expectations and providing with this character a cipher into another way of behaving. In fact it’s this collision between expectation and the reality of the film that’s most jarring, and in turn most effective.
Despite the talents of those at the helm the film would simply be nothing without the power and presence of Huppert. She grabs the narrative by the throat, providing a pitch-perfect performance that’s one for the ages. Complicated, risqué and sure to elicit conversation, this is another provocative work from one of the finest directors around, showcasing his unique ability to be provocative while at the same time doing so with a fierce, piercing intelligence.
Bolstered by Huppert’s magnificence, Elle is simply astonishing.