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« New to DVD: The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum | Main | "Jackie" Sells to Fox Searchlight. December Gets Yet More Crowded »
Tuesday
Sep132016

TIFF: Isabelle Huppert is "Elle"

Nathaniel R reporting from the Toronto International Film Festival (Sept 8th-18th)

On any given day around the movie internet you will see the headine "What You Need To Know About ['Movie You Haven't Seen Yet']". It's clickbait. The sum total of what you need to know about a movie before you see it is nothing. Go to the movie theater and actually experience it. So if the promise of a new acclaimed Paul Verhoeven feature (his first since the riveting Black Book in 2006) that's been loudly labelled a "rape comedy" starring the world's most casually transgressive movie star Isabelle Huppert is enough to sell you a ticket I urge you to not read any reviews before seeing it, including this one. It's not that the film has twists that can spoil the experience if they're known ahead of time so much as it's in the way the movie is itself twisted.

Just how twisted is revealed through the careful deployment of its psychosexual landmines. And just how often they're successfully played for laughter ... albeit of the discomforting 'what am I laughing at?' variety. 

Two provocative legends (Verhoeven & Huppert) on set

Which is not to say that the rape itself is the subject of comedy...

The intermittent flashbacks play like realistic PTSD feedback loops of snippets of the terrifying attack, that you dread watching whenever they pop up (as well you should.) The comedy instead comes from Isabelle Huppert's master class acting as Michèle Leblanc, the wealthy owner of a video game company. The laughts often emerge from her matter-of-fact sexuality and frankness as with her casual sharing of her rape at a dinner with friends mere hours afterwards or her frequently vocalized curiousity about the rapist himself. Michèle is no stranger to misogyny or sexual perversion, some of it her own. You'll have to see the movie to understand how often she is complicit in unforgiving views of women but its evident from the product she sells to her familial dramas, with her mother and son both of whom regularly experience her angry disapproval. Not everything in the movie works including I'd argue the subplot with her son and how it treads a little too much of the same water in its 130 minute running time. But it's most definitely funny.

Michele is curiously comic even with her cat who she rebukes for not helping her.

You could have at least scratched him.

One of the most fascinating elements of Verhoeven's terrific and hard-to-describe movie is how perfectly he harnesses all the facets of Huppert's screen persona: her chilly cerebral quality, her facility with conveying enigmatic interiority, that underutilized deadpan sense of humor, and her potent carnality. That the project wasn't written explicity for her is as impossible to imagine as the list of names that Verhoeven considered before offering it to her (Kidman, Lane, Stone, Van Houten, etcetera).

A proclamation: this role was Huppert's destiny. You see, long before Michèle Leblanc was the controversial even hated designer of questionable videogames, she was already infamous. As a child a disturbing photo of her was published in the newspaper in an article about a horrific crime. Verhoeven wisely shows us the photo. It won't surprise you to hear that even as a young girl, Isabelle Huppert's face was already an opaque mask, an intimidating challenge, and the herald of the multiple outrageous women she'd one day immortalize on screen.

Grade: A-/B+
Oscar Chances: Yes. People say I'm crazy but yes. If career retrospective feelings take root with Huppert, we could see her among the Best Actress nominees. It's the perfect marriage of a legendary actor to a highly discussable role fused to all of her specific strengths. If you want to reward someone for an entire career, those are the best roles with which to do it -- a role that reminds you of that whole career while offering up fresh energy and excitement of its own. (In a better world the screenplay and Verhoeven might be in the mix but let's at least try for Huppert, shall we?)

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Reader Comments (21)

So I read only the first paragraph and immediately scrolled down to the grade/Oscar Chances. Very intrigued, even though I thought Black Book was deeply, inherently flawed and I'm not that much of a fan of Verhoeven in general.

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

If anyone can make a "rape comedy" and do it right it's Paul Verhoeven - cf Turkish Delight, The Fourth Man, Robocop, Showgirls, Starship Troopers - all sometimes sick, sometimes hilarious and sometimes brilliant in their own inimitable ways.

I actually think a crowded field may help Isabelle Huppert's chances, in a, dare I say it, perverse way. Besides the core of art-film fanatics, she may benefit from her lack a chance to win (let's face it). When naming their five nominees, she could be seen by partisans of some rival nominees as a name to put down to try to block potential perceived threats. I may be overthinking this but if her name pops up on nomination morning instead of say, Annette Bening or Ruth Negga, etc., that could be an explanation.

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterken s

ken s: So in an "I actually want X to win, but I'll vote Y #1 so Z doesn't get nominated" kind of way? I don't doubt that influences Academy decisions (I'm way more confident that's how ScarJo missed in 2003 instead of vote splitting (Castle-Hughes (the youngest nominee up to that point) AND Something's Gotta Give in the same year)), but I'm not sure that's the kind of work that winds up nominated because of it. No, more often I'm guessing that's the kind of vote thinking that results in stuff like Trumbo or The Danish Girl being etched in stone as nominees, because old voters are scared of stuff like Creed or Ex Machina pushing in.

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I did the same thing Paul Outlaw did––scrolled down to see the grade. Even if you'd given it an "F" I'd go see it, just by reading the plot synopsis and seeing the names Verhoeven and Huppert on the same project.

Looks like Portman and Stone are safe bets, now that LA LA LAND has been to rapturously received and JACKIE got purchased by Fox Searchlights with a qualifying release. Hopefully, Huppert can nab a spot. Her performance in THE PIANO TEACHER was the most egregious acting snub of the aughts; they need to make it up to her.

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

Volvagia, that's close, but not exactly what I think happens sometimes. It's more like: I want X (say, Portman this year) snd maybe Y (Adams) and Z (Davis) were second- and third-best. But they could actually win, so after I put X as my first choice, I'll leave them off my ballot completely and put 4 who don't have a chance of winning, say, A-Steep or B-Huppert. I think something similar may have happened in the Director's race in 2012 when Hanecke and Zeitlin, who never had a chance of winning bumped Affleck and Bigelow. Maybe that's how Lenny Abrahamson was nominated instead of Ridley Scott last year - even though I find that result praiseworthy and was ecstatic about it, it was weird.

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterken s

This was the most uncomfortable movie I've seen this decade. I was laughing and feeling incredibly guilty because of that. Then I was nervous, and then my heart skipped several beats. I felt like

This role is just impossible to pull off, but Huppert does it.

This movie is sick and wicked.

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I think that this movie will go unnoticed by the academy but who cares.
I love how you started this review. It echoes my sentiment exactly about advertising of movies these days. If you want to really enjoy a movie, go watch it knowing nothing about it. Nowadays the only think I want to know about a movie is the first trailer. Just really to get a little bit of a feel for what kind of movies is it. Social agenda, romantic ....
But that's it. Twitter is killing me with the whole "new clip released" trend. It is the attempted assassination of the moviegoing experience.
So I did not read your entire review - just the first paragraph and the grade because I wanted to know if you liked it.
Isabelle Huppert is one of a kind. and Paul Verhoeven is one of a kind. I am very happy to see their union may have resulted in a very very special piece of work. sign me up.

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

I can't believe how many douchebags critics at TIFF take this film at face value! Which part of satire and breaking all taboos of PC get lost in translation? Sheez. Mich-ELLE is everything! Isab-ELLE is everything! By the moment she plays her emotions with such hilarious deapancy, she becomes her cat and vice-versa. Terrific!

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterchofer

Almodovar's Kika is a rape comedy. Elle opens on my birthday stateside.

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

That screen shot is fucking hilarious.

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDavid S.

Can't wait to see it. And I desperately want Isabelle nominated for the Best Actress Oscar.

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterStefano

Calling an Isabelle Huppert character as twisted is like saying sugar is sweet. It's the natural order of the universe babe.
I NEED HER TO GET AN OSCAR NOM ALA RAMPLING LAST YEAR!

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

BVR
'Her performance in THE PIANO TEACHER was the most egregious acting snub of the aughts'

Naomi Watts in Mulholland Dr. was equally robbed, too.

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterchofer

Isabelle Huppert + Paul Verhoeven=$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

My God is Paul Verhoeven that old? I don't even recognize it.

Anyway, can't wait for this! Isabelle Huppert is a treasure. Hope this pans out for her this year.

September 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I am hoping Isabelle will get her first ever Oscar nomination for ELLE - but is the Academy willing to nominate TWO foreign language performances? Since the rightwing Brazilian committee refused to submit Aquarius for Foreign Language - there is a huge incentive to nominate Sonia Braga who is getting rave reviews.
Given all this - we all know Viola Davis will get the Oscar - even though a lot of people say it is a supporting role. Methinks the Anthony Hopkins / Kate Winslet rule will apply next year.

September 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

Verhoeven's said that he made the film in French because no Hollywood actress wanted to play such a risky part. He obviously didn't approach Kidman!! Shame, Verhoeven, shameeeee!!

September 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos (a different one)

Oscar chances maybe not so high as this role is sooooooo controversial?? But I'll sure she get lotsa French love!! She's a movie goddess back in France & Europe....

Maybe Huppert will win finally her 2nd Caesar after 13 noms & only one win

September 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

I'm really concerned that she may cancel herself out because she has been getting brilliant reviews for Things to Come, the film by Mia Hansen-Løve (wife of Olivier Assayas, and the outstanding director of a continuous string of exceptional movies: Father of My Children, Goodbye First Love, and especially, Eden).

I was really hoping in 2012 that she would get a supporting nod for Amour (a small but difficult, and tricky role) just so I could finally say that Isabelle Huppert was an Academy Award Nominee. Of course my heart sank when Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) got a head-scratching nomination.

For years I had thought Huppert was nominated twice already (La Cérémonie and Story of Women), so when she didn't get nominated for The Piano Teacher I wasn't as pissed as I should have been. Shortly after I learned that she had/has never been nominated. I'm usually good at remembering previous nominees so I was gobsmacked. Apparently I was living in an alternate César universe for some time.

At any rate, a lot of new European artists have been invited into the Academy, so hopefully she can get a nod. Then I can rest.

September 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIshmael

I'm really concerned that she may cancel herself out because she has been getting brilliant reviews for Things to Come, the film by Mia Hansen-Løve (wife of Olivier Assayas, and the outstanding director of a continuous string of exceptional movies: Father of My Children, Goodbye First Love, and especially, Eden).

I was really hoping in 2012 that she would get a supporting nod for Amour (a small but difficult, and tricky role) just so I could finally say that Isabelle Huppert was an Academy Award Nominee. Of course my heart sank when Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) got a head-scratching nomination.

For years I had thought Huppert was nominated twice already (La Cérémonie and Story of Women), so when she didn't get nominated for The Piano Teacher I wasn't as pissed as I should have been. Shortly after I learned that she had/has never been nominated. I'm usually good at remembering previous nominees so I was gobsmacked. Apparently I was living in an alternate César universe for some time.

At any rate, a lot of new European artists have been invited into the Academy, so hopefully she can get a nod. Then I can rest.

September 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIshmael

isabelle is one of the two most overdue for an oscar nom. the other one is gong li.

September 17, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermcv

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