Published Sep 07, 2016Thank god for Paul Verhoeven.
Roaring back to life after a decade-long hiatus, the Dutch master of the deranged has made his sleaziest film in years with Elle, an exploitation throwback to his one of his earliest works, 1973's Turkish Delight. Only Verhoeven could take the trappings of the rape-revenge subgenre and flip it on its lowbrow head, tearing into modern sexism and misogyny with ferocious direction. This doesn't feel like the work of a 78-year-old, but like the work of a young director, hungry and hell-bent on one goal: provocation.
Perhaps a return to his roots is what Verhoeven needed. After a series of American films with decreasing success (2000's Hollow Man was the nadir), Verhoeven went back to the Netherlands to shoot Black Book in 2006. That film was a critical hit, and reminded audiences what they loved about him before his big American debut with Robocop even if it didn't quite feel like what he was capable of in the days of Spetters and Soldier of Orange.
Elle feels of a piece with those films, finding its twisted heart in unexpectedly hearty doses of humour. It helps to have a performance from the always-incredible Isabelle Huppert, who might be one of the best actresses in the world, at the centre. Huppert is so good at finding the humanity in this slice of sleaze, game for everything Verhoeven throws her way. And while Verhoeven is making an intentionally throwback-y nod to his earlier films, he manages to make Elle feel thoroughly modern, with commentary on video games, voyeurism and gendered spectatorship. Don't miss it at this year's TIFF. (Mongrel Media)