ELLE (2016, Paul Verhoeven)
Verhoeven throws the kitchen sink in with everything else, stuffing his 130-minute film with 180 minutes’ worth of incident and theme, which does a great job of masking the fact that this is ultimately kind of shallow. There’s lots of jokes going around about the plot of COLLATERAL BEAUTY, the description of which almost defies belief, and while ELLE is way more interesting and smart than that movie sounds, the story is still a shitstorm: the daughter of an imprisoned, infamous mass murderer is attacked, raped, and threatened for weeks on end, while her son begs her for money to support his horrific pregnant fiancée, her co-workers sabotage the violent video game she produces, and she carries on affairs with two different married men (whose wives are both friends of hers) and insults her mother for getting engaged to a young, gold-digging stud.
Imagine that story crammed into the style of a French Hitchcockian chamber drama, and you’ve got BASIC INSTINCT meets LA CEREMONIE, which sounds great until you realize the 78-year-old Verhoeven might just be too long in the tooth to pull it off. He does give us a gut-busting laugh (the shot of Omar’s face behind Vincent after he sees Josie’s baby) and some shocking flashbacks to the opening attack, and it’s interesting how he always frames Huppert (playing at least a decade younger than her 65 years) from a little too high of an angle — she’s a diminutive character swallowed by the camera, despite how strong and take-charge Michèle is. But ultimately it’s hard to be engaged by anything intellectual here; the film is entertaining but it barely leaves a mark.