Isabelle Huppert is superb as a complex rape victim in Paul Verhoeven’s fearless Elle, while Kelly Reichardt’s study of female identity is lifted to the heavens by Kristen Stewart
Is thespian auteurism a thing? Can an actor author a film they haven’t scripted or directed through sheer force of presence? Watching Isabelle Huppert burn herself into the already too-hot-to-handle Elle (Lionsgate, 18), you believe so. Paul Verhoeven, himself a pretty assertive film-making brand, has repeatedly stated that he couldn’t have made this exhilaratingly kinked study of sexuality without Huppert’s “amorality” – a term few but he could apply with such doting pride – to steer matters.
It’s hard to imagine any other actor making quite such sense of the cinema’s most defiantly complex female lead in recent memory: Michèle Leblanc, unflappable CEO of a video game company, who refuses to let being savagely raped interrupt her life any more than it has to. As she resolves to own her victimhood in the most dauntless way possible, David Birke’s spidery script presents a million possible avenues of rape-revenge catharsis, not once taking the most expected one. Complicated, corrosively funny and acted with breathtaking nerve by Huppert, it treads dangerous ground while defending the wildly idiosyncratic nature of desire.