Michèle's (Isabelle Huppert) cat is shut outside. She opens the window for it when a man wearing a balaclava and dressed in black grabs and rapes her. The life of this strong-willed, temperamental company director is changed forever, and her feelings are a mixture between desire for revenge and constant fear.
Elle, Paul Verhoeven in French version with Isabelle Huppert
This is the second selection at Cannes for Paul Verhoeven, twenty-four years after Basic Instinct. The director of Total Recall and Starship Troopers leaves the USA behind for his film, Elle, presented in Competition. He has adapted the French author Philippe Djian's novel "Oh…", starring Isabelle Huppert.
When Paul Verhoeven first started imagining the film, it was going to be American, played by Nicole Kidman or Sharon Stone, and shot in Boston or Chicago, but the subject failed to seduce both producers and actresses who were cautious about such an immoral project. He ended up shooting the film in France, the country where the original plot of the novel "Oh…" takes place, and broke up the linear storyline so as to accentuate the dramaturgical tension. He presented the project to Isabelle Huppert a few months before she finally accepted the leading role.
Isabelle Huppert's role in Elle is that of a woman who refuses to become a victim despite the violence that she has been subjected to. The film director has full command of the art of ambiguity, and refused to slip into the expected melodrama by painting a disturbing picture of this cynical woman, that nothing seems to shake.
"Elle never plays the victim, despite the fact that she could have lots of reasons to do so. Guilt, putting up with the things that happen to her... These are examples of notions that female characters cannot easily break free of. There's always the temptation to do this in films, to move towards emotion - which is not genuine at the end of the day! - a kind of tacky sentimentality." Isabelle Huppert