Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle” was among the surprise inclusions in the Cannes Film Festival this year, but early reviews indicate that the “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls” director’s latest deserved its spot in the Competition. The “lighthearted rape-revenge story” starring Isabelle Huppert gets a B from Indiewire’s Eric Kohn, who says that the co-writer/director “has crafted a defiant tale about the ultimate antidote for fear lying in the ability to turn it into something else.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Jordan Mintzer feels similarly, calling “Elle” a “tastefully twisted mid-to-late-life crisis thriller that’s both lasciviously dark and rebelliously light on its feet” before concluding that Verhoeven and Huppert “combine their talents to make a film that hardly skimps on the sex, violence and sadism, yet ultimately tells a story about how one woman uses them all to set herself free.”
In her review for Screen Daily, Lisa Nesselson says that Huppert’s “self-assured-and-aloof register is a perfect fit with Verhoeven’s taste for far-fetched human behaviour presented as plausible,” calling the film itself “suspenseful and unsettling from first frame to last.” Huppert has twice won the Best Actress prize at Cannes, once for “Violette Nozière” in 1978 and again for “The Piano Teacher” in 2001.
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Praise for Huppert’s performance is a through-line in this first round of reviews, with Guy Lodge noting in Variety that her “bid for ‘greatest living actor’ status grows more persuasive with each film” and praising the way she “makes wholly credible a character whose actions frequently challenge belief.” He’s kind to Verhoeven as well, calling “Elle” a “possible career high” for the auteur, who’s been absent from feature filmmaking for a full decade.
Elsewhere, Charles Healy of Austin 360 says the film is “full of suspense, irony and, surprisingly, many laugh-out loud moments”; The Guardian’s Xan Brooks give the film a full five stars and calls it “an electrifying film to close this year’s Cannes competition…’Elle’ is uproarious, galvanic and guaranteed to spark debate.” On his website, HFPA member Emanuel Levy says that Huppert, who appears in every scene of the film, “is so perfectly cast that it’s hard to imagine any other actress of her generation playing this complex and demanding role in such a subtle, multi-nuanced mode.”
Verhoeven’s Elle is a sparkling and (sometimes) restrained return to form, one-part thriller and one-part study in trauma’s aftermath
— Steven Zeitchik (@ZeitchikLAT) May 21, 2016
Elle: Perverse, hilarious and insanely pleasurable. Huppert & Verhoeven: my ultimate dream team. Loved every twisted second. #Cannes2016
— Nigel M. Smith (@nigelmfs) May 21, 2016
In Elle, despite Paul Verhoeven’s attempts at a stupid violent sex fantasy, the great Isabelle Huppert somehow rises above the silliness.
— Anne Thompson (@akstanwyck) May 21, 2016
ELLE: Has a premise some will find absolutely impassable, but Huppert’s character is so very fantastic.
— Alison Willmore (@alisonwillmore) May 21, 2016
For more from Cannes, watch the “Neon Demon” trailer:
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