Ok. So, old Jack was in the mood for a tale of a vengeful woman driving her agency through the crap of the world and the lazy righteousness of the patriarchy. It was the month of Weinstein and #metoo and Netflix was bound to have a category for this… And, being old, fat, male and a victim of a boys school education, I was feeling the need for a bit of a reality update. For I have a gap: the same kind of gap that leads to “you’re white, you don’t feel your privilege”. I am not woman; I do not understand.
Anyway, I chose the wrong film.
Elle manages to be fantastic, icy and properly weird over two bemusing and fascinating hours. The lead, Michèle Leblanc (le jeu de mots), just brilliantly played by Isabelle Huppert, is raped in the first scene. It’s about the noise and passive stare of her cat at first, but flashbacks give sense to the crash of plates and rip of clothes . It’s awful. Horrid. And she lies in the bath afterwards and bleeds with a cool irritation.
Yup – weird.
And this tone continues throughout. We are walked through her odd life: her business, over-egging the perverse sexuality in a line of video-games; her personal life, with its population of strange and angry men, one of whom she wanks into a bucket (off-camera, people) while betraying a friend; her family life, with its dumbass son, galling mother and freakishly unlikely back-story. Daddy was a murderous nut-job and little Michèle helped him clean up his bloody mess, just the once, with national TV coverage and a life-time of unforgiving distance. God, it’s all a bit strange.
Michèle does hunt down her masked attacker – which is why I was watching – but engages with him in a manner that raises the artificial in this film. Beautifully made, impressively acted, but a weird kind of pretend. The story sits amorally in the ‘uncomfortable’ box and shouts at you. There’s a twisted perversion to the characters that, wonderfully, keeps many clichés at bay, but I was hankering for some natural reactions to trauma by the end. Hunt, revenge, please – less hunt, amble, be strange, be properly strange, sort of get unsatisfying revenge.
The film remembers itself at the very end: the trigger of the first scene is resolved, but without the sense of a hunter reaching its prey. It plays more as a sideline to the broader, stranger investigation of characters and blank-faced performance that make up the meat of the enterprise.
Old Jack is dodging the details, here. Sorry – you need to see this one yourself. It is mesmerising in that urban, French way that reality isn’t.
And does it teach the middle-aged man about the lives of modern women: their harassment and challenges?