December 5, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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For about 30 years (from the 70s through the 90s), director Paul Verhoeven (“Basic Instinct,” “Total Recall”) made a film every 18 months, on average.  In that last 20 years, he has made 4.  The critically beloved thriller, “Elle,” is his first in four years. As I said, the critics are almost universally in love with it. I am not. Much has been said about Isabelle Huppert’s performance and, indeed, she is a fantastic actress, who has been called France’s Meryl Streep. She brings a cold nervyness to her character that is disarming and only adds to the tension that pervades the film. Verhoeven certainly knows how to make a a thriller and this film is terrific at maintaining a constant sense of dread. In fact, this film is technically well made. It is also cheap exploitation, no matter what anyone else says. An artist can make a reasonable argument that art should lie outside of politics and, fair enough, but any piece of art is commentary, in some form. When you wade into emotionally charged waters, you have some responsibility for the message you are sending and the clearest message I got from this film is the trivializing of sexual assault. Huppert plays a woman who is raped brutally in the first scene of the film and again several more times by the same assailant. She chooses to empower herself in this situation by learning to enjoy the rape. I understand that there are multiple other layers in the story and that her character is a complex one. I get that she is self-loathing and self-destructive and why. And I do see how this film is trying to explore that trauma. But I am left most resonantly with the fact that rape is horrifyingly traumatic and this film sent a message about how to handle it that I found disturbing. In fact, I was bothered by the fact that virtually every single man in the film seemed to objectify women in one way or another. Huppert’s character owns a video game company where they are making a game that involves physical and sexual assault of women. It was all just too much for me. It felt like Verhoeven was exploiting sexual violence for cheap thrills. He certainly has the right but I would be delighted if I never had to sit through a film like that one again.


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