Paul Verhoeven, favorite director of many film fans has finally broken his ten year cinematic hiatus with the new film Elle.
The motion picture was shot in France with a French crew and actors. Paul Verhoeven is a Dutch filmmaker, who started to make films in the Netherlands (Turkish Delight, Katie Tippel, Soldier of Orange) but later experienced problems with financing and later moved to America where he created his most well-known films including Basic Instinct, Total Recall, Robocop and many others. Later he faced difficulties in Hollywood and moved back to Europe.
If Verhoeven’s most famous film Basic Instinct was made under Hitchcock’s influence then the film Elle is strongly reminiscent of Haneke’s work, who also filmed in France and even cast Isabelle Huppert, the lead actress of Elle, in his film The Piano Teacher, which investigates similar problems. When Basic Instinct was created it was on the level of Hitchcock’s cinematic classics, and was excellent in the visual and musical sense. Strong visual side characterizes Verhoeven’s films, unlike Haneke’s cinematic output which is typically gray, bleak and drab. It is very sad that in the film Elle, Verhoeven did not display himself as the artist he is.
But the main flaw of the film is the miscasting of the main actress who should not be too young or too old. She should be in her forties, and not sixty like Huppert. The film is focused on one woman which is why it is important to have had an actress who is able to hold the viewers interest with her acting and her looks. It is worth noting that Huppert was not the directors first choice, many American actresses were considered for the part including Sharon Stone and Nicole Kidman.
The plot of the picture is also questionable and not convincing enough. The director could not decide if he wanted to do a comedy or a drama, and combining the genre elements did not prove entirely successful. The main character is not interesting and does not make the viewer care for her fate. The story is not new and there have been enough sadomasochism themed movies and this picture does not add anything new to the oeuvre. The male characters are also not impressive either and the main villain when unmasked is not scary in the slightest.
Although film aficionados are happy to see the new film of Verhoeven and while the film is watchable, it is not the height of his creativity. Hopefully Mr. Verhoeven will return to his style and his film career in France will culminate with something more significant than Elle.