Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Nachtraglichkeit or après coup is a psychoanalytic term for a delayed reaction to a traumatic event. Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is an extended essay on this concept. Like an analysis, the movie peels away the varying layers of the onion even as it presents its succession of cataclysmic events. It must be said that one of the problems of the movie is that it itself seems to be in a state of shock. You can write about boredom, but you can’t be boring goes the old saw and Verhoeven’s characters employ the worst aspects of the almost linguistic obsession the French have with appearance to camouflage any of the empathy one might have felt for their suffering. Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible was famous for Monica Bellucci’s interminable 10 minute rape scene. But here in Elle Verhoeven is almost surgical, as if the director were out to milk his scenes of every ounce of anti-eroticism he can muster. The rape happens so quickly that you register little more than the kind of frisson that occurs when something takes place out of nowhere. Any intruder would have the same effect; the fact that the intruder is committing a sexual assault is actually secondary. Then there's the reaction of his character, a producer of violent video games by the name of Michele Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) who merely takes a bath, with the red blood coloring the suds the only reminder of what has transpired. It turns out that Michele is the daughter of a mass murderer. So there are two successive crimes, producing their separate but equal responses. Like an algebraic graph of equations in two unknowns, the question is when will the two lines intersect? Elle is a long film whose disquisition is taken up with a reticulated telling not of the backstory, but its effects. There's no doubt that Huppert gives a brilliant rendition of the varying levels of her character's disconnection. Two lines stick out, one when her stalker texts “you were very tight for a woman of your age” and another when the stalker’s wife actually thanks Michelle for giving her husband what he wanted. The politesse which is again very French considering the garishness of the plot is the perfect illustration of how tortured souls become sleepwalkers when the pain they’re experiencing is too profound.

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