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Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Christian Berkel, Judith Magre, Jonas Bloquet, Alice Isaaz, Vimala Pons, Raphaël Lenglet, Arthur Mazet, Lucas Prisor, Hugo Conzelmann, Stéphane Bak

Director: Paul Verhoeven

“Hell” might be a somewhat more appropriate title for Verhoeven’s masterly blend of rape-revenge thriller ingeniously infused with deeply black comedy that sees Huppert, rightly nominated for the Best Actress Oscar and (mistakenly perhaps?) losing to Emma Stone for La La Land

But “Elle” it is and Huppert is superb as the deliberately less than likeable title character, the middle-aged head of a prosperous video-game company whose world explodes into horror and emotional chaos when she is raped in her home.

On the surface her acceptance of the assault is unusual – she ignores approaching the police and instead decodes to hunt down the rapist for herself, confirming her decision with the pungent line “Shame isn’t a strong enough emotion to stop us doing anything at all”.

And then, adding additional depth and emotional power to an already potent mixture, when she tracks him down, Huppert still excludes the lawÂ…

“Elle” was initially slated to be made in America.

Fortunately, (and perfectly confirming Verhoeven’s apt comment, ““no American actress would ever take on such an amoral movie”) it was cast and made in France, showcasing a magnificent one-of-a-kind performance that makes one realise the role could not have been better played – or more convincingly characterised – by anyone other that Huppert.

While you may not agree intellectually with the less-than-perfect moral stance of her character, Huppert makes “Elle” eminently credible with a multi-layered performance spiced with unexpected wit and skin-crawling credibility.

It’s that rare portrayal that deserves a second viewing – and, as I discovered to my pleasure – more than justifies the time spent doing just that.

Armed with David Birke‘s brutal but satisfactorily subtle screenplay (based on Philippe Djian’s novel Oh...) and well-cast players whose contributions were successfully designed to to showcase Huppert, Verhoeven never puts a frame wrong, returning in triumph not only with his best picture in quite a while but, more interestingly, breaking the same kid of intelligent, non-exploitative adult moviemaking procedures he broke so memorably with Basic Instinct back in 1992.

In a phrase (the kind of positive praise publicists cry out for?) it's "one 'elle of a movie" and, better still, delivers genuine intellectual stimulation along with its unforgettable narrative

Alan Frank

France/Germany/Belgium 2017. UK Distributor: Picturehouse Entertainment. Colour.
130 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 02 Apr 2017