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Provocative, disturbing and shocking, darkly funny, neo-noir and offensive, the film Elle (2016) invites an abundance of words to describe it, not least "singular." A review in The Guardian went so far as to call it a new genre, dubbing it a "rape-revenge black comedy."

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, based on the novel Oh... by Philippe Djian, and starring Isabelle Huppert, who won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her role, Elle is the story of Michèle Leblanc (Huppert), who at the very start of this French-German film (and even a second or two before the title sequence wraps up) is viciously raped in her living room. The co-founder of a successful video game production company in Paris, and the daughter of a notorious serial killer who's now in prison, Leblanc tries to (and doesn't try to) move on with her life after the assault, armed with an axe and pepper spray. At the same time, or so it seemed to me, she's waiting for that rapist to return, almost taunting him to do so, night after night.

Leblanc's mother is a scandalous cougar and Leblanc's naive son is in love with an angry crazy girl who later has "their" child, a child he has convinced himself is his despite the baby's patently dark skin (he and the girl are white), and Leblanc has recently ended an affair with her best friend's husband. Everything is weirdly and perhaps unnecessarily complicated. There are plenty of other oddball characters too, including members of her staff, and her picture-perfect neighbors. It seems as if Leblanc is in denial of the rape, and that it has forced to the surface memories of her father's crimes as well as her role in seeing them through. What's more, she appears to be leaving herself vulnerable to subsequent attacks by her assailant. It becomes fairly obvious to us, the viewers, who that man is, and would be as clear to her if she weren't in denial or somehow in need of potential danger. All in all, this a different kind of story, with solid performances and an assortment of shocking thrills.


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