This rape drama might make you wish you had stayed home. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
There are several ways you can watch “Elle,” only one of which is mildly enjoyable. The film, from Paul Verhoeven, is essentially a rape drama, in turns both overwrought and remote. Michèle (Isabelle Huppert), the CEO of a Paris video-game company, is viciously attacked in her home by an unknown masked man. We gradually learn, through the film’s long running time as Michèle copes with the aftermath of the attack, that she is a complicated woman: her father was a mass murderer; her marriage ended and she misses her ex-husband; she’s carrying on a chilly affair with her business partner’s husband; and she’s a soon-to-be grandmother who’s scornful of her grown son (he is, she says, “a big lout with nothing special about him”).
You can watch this movie with appreciation for a remarkable performance by Huppert (who’s also in theaters this month — and equally splendid — in Mia Hansen-Love’s “Things to Come”); for her way of conveying how Michèle immediately covers emotions with a sheet of ice, like a lake in winter. (Look for one small, wicked smile, as she fantasizes a revenge version of the attack.) You can watch it with academic detachment, admiring its cool style and unexpected turns. Or you can see it as a male filmmaker’s lurid, repeated depiction of violence against a female character (one who is defined, almost entirely, by her relationship with men), shown in nightmarish detail. And you can, as I wish I had, look away.