directed by Paul Verhoeven
by Bill Chambers The first thing you hear in Elle, after Anne Dudley's giallo-worthy (and, thus, slightly misleading) overture, are some violent sex noises, but the first thing you see is a cat, a good ol' Russian blue, who is watching his owner get violated with daunting ambivalence. Meet the director. Migrating from his native Holland to France this time, Paul Verhoeven has made a movie fascinated with rape at either the best or worst cultural moment he could have chosen. Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) is depicted being raped several times over the course of the film by the same ski-masked stranger; my own reaction was a complicated gnarl of disgust and desensitization that led to more disgust. Eventually, I think, Michèle's relationship with her attacker becomes S&M in all but name, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Michèle is a well-to-do Parisian with a videogame company that seems to specialize in hentai (meaning you also get to see tentacle rape, Verhoeven-style). Family members--including a mother (Judith Magre) who's into much-younger men and a layabout son (Jonas Bloquet) who's fallen under the spell of a pregnant gold digger (Alice Isaaz)--orbit in close proximity despite her abrasive candor, which at one point finds her telling her friends and puppyish ex-husband (Charles Berling) about her rape over cocktails after work. They worry, but because she's the alpha dog, they probably don't worry enough.