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Isabelle Huppert ... Michèle Leblanc
Laurent Lafitte ... Patrick
Anne Consigny ... Anna
Charles Berling ... Richard Leblanc
Virginie Efira ... Rebecca
Judith Magre ... Irène Leblanc
Christian Berkel ... Robert
Jonas Bloquet ... Vincent
Alice Isaaz ... Josie
Vimala Pons ... Hélène
Raphaël Lenglet ... Ralf
Arthur Mazet ... Kevin
Lucas Prisor ... Kurt
Hugo Conzelmann ... Philipp Kwan
Stéphane Bak ... Omar

Skirting the line between feminism and misogyny has been one of the hallmarks of director Paul Verhoeven's career. Films such as "Basic Iinstinct" and "Showgirls" delivered strong, iconic female characters. At 78, this Dutch Master doesn't seem to want to change his tune now, but with his latest film, Elle, he's taken his brand to a highly original, perverse new level.
Elle tells the story of Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert), a brusque, no-nonsense video game company owner who, in the opening scene, survives a violent rape in her living room. Instead of calling the police, Michèle quietly cleans up the shattered glass, takes a bubble bath, and carries on with her day. Some time later, at a dinner, she matter of factly tells the table about the incident. Hated at work and hated by the general public as a possible accomplice to her father's serial murders when she was a child, Michèle seems geared to not follow any predictable routes in life. She has complicated relationships with everyone she knows, including her mother, who lives for botox and her male gigolo, her best friend/business partner and her husband, her devout neighbors, resentful male employees and an adoring one, her less successful ex-husband and unambitious son. She even manages to talk sass to her cat, who impassively witnesses everything. In a story where almost everyone is a suspect, you would think discovering the identity of the rapist, who wore a ski mask, would be the end of the story. Clearly, the filmmakers have more on their mind when we learn who he is a little more than halfway through.
Michèle isn't your standard issue movie heroine. She's tough, conniving, socially impenetrable, sleeps with other women's husbands, and definitely likes things a little on the kinky side. It's as if her early life traumas have led to envelope-pushing behavior. She's trying to cope with the sins of her father the best way she knows how, and none of those choices are what you would typically experience in a studio revenge fantasy.
Michèle just may be Isabelle Huppert's best performance yet. She knows just how to annihilate another person with her pointed brand of stoicism. Instead of resorting to eye-rolling or wild gestures, she opts for intense, assured, confident command. So much of Elle uses dark wit to subvert our expectations.
Director Paul Verhoeven ("Basic Instinct") keeps things visually simple, although his use of negative space is inventive. But, is this a feminist film or is it deeply misogynistic? I think the answer may be yes to both. For a film that aims for a type of female revenge, it also shows a lot of violence against women.

Without spoiling anything, Elle brings new meaning to yelling back at the screen, "Don't go in the basement!" Because most of the people around Michèle exude empathy more often than she does, you're not sure who you're rooting for. One-by-one, she takes aim at the men around her, as a way of saying, "My father took control of my life, and he will be the last man who ever does." It's not, however, the type of revenge you end up applauding. You may not even like Michèle in the end, but, whichever side of the issue you find yourself on, you won't soon forget Michèle's methods and Isabelle Huppert's incredible performance.

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