Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Elle (2016) New York Film Festival 2016

Director Paul Verhoeven and his clues a long way away from the audience
What Paul Verhoeven's provocation of a film is doing in the talk of films almost certain to get an Oscar nomination is one of the great mysteries of life. Frankly if the well respected Isabelle Huppert weren't in it the film would be a  laughed off the screen as a bad joke. Huppert's presence makes one pause simply because her past credentials make you wonder if there is something more here.

I don't think there is. Frankly I think whatever may have been in the source novel has gotten lost on the road to the screen.

The film concerns a woman who is raped, who may or may not have liked it, and who then tries to track down the man responsible. She also has the hots for her neighbor, is having an affair with her best friend's husband, is on the verge of becoming a grandmother and is the daughter of a mass murderer. To say there are a lot of plot threads is an understatement.

The film is often played for laughs, but is structured like a thriller. It is so ambiguous about it's motivations that when the film ends you're left wondering what the hell you just saw and why you bothered.

I would like to think that the film is some kind of a sick joke but again Isabelle Huppert is in the film so I have to wonder, at least a little, if there was supposed to be something more going on. Huppert has a career full of challenging, feminist and empowering films so if she saw something in the novel there has to be something in the story, right? Huppert, according the Verhoven, wanted to do a film adaption before he was ever aboard. The film rights went to the director who then tried to make it as an American film but failed so he went to France and made it with Huppert. Whatever happened all meaning seems to have been lost.

I've read a lot of reviews that said this is what happens when a male director makes a film about rape, but to be honest if a female director made the same film or even something close we'd still be scratching our heads. A bad film is a bad film. If a filmmmaker has bad perspective their gender isn't going to make it better or make it excusable.
Isabelle Huppert and her fuzzy director

While there all sorts of bad plot twists ( and I've yet to run across a mass market video game with graphic tentacle sex)  the whole plot and the whole film hinges on how you see Huppert's motivations. Is she looking for revenge? Is she looking for more rough sex? Is the ending a deus ex machina sort of good timing or was that her plan all along? What is she up to? Its not really clear. Its so not clear that you don't know what the film's point of view is other than all the women (more or less) are better off without the men in their lives. We know nothing about Huppert's character or her motivations except what we want to lay upon her when it's all said and done. Its so not on the screen that people can and have gotten into heated arguments about what everything means or is really going on.

I really don't know what to think or what to feel. Though to be honest I kind of feel nothing and was laughing at the film instead of with it. I literally threw up my hands at one point when I was thinking "I bet they'll have a car accident right here" and they did. Clearly Verhoeven is fucking with the audience because he can- which may very well be all he's doing.

Is the film offensive? Oh most probably for the vast majority of civilized people. (I say most people because two guys off to my left found the rape sequences very funny).

Is the film worth seeing? Other than seeing what all the yelling and screaming is about, no, not really. Personally I think no one should see the film so it makes no money and just disappears.

While I have to admire the New York Film Festival for putting a provocative film in the main slate, I really wish they had picked one that was better and worthy of even pondering.

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