We harbour notions about how a movie on rape & sexual violence will be. Elle, the French movie brushes them aside; totally subverting the viewer model we have on such a sensitive subject. The moral purists may not appreciate it. But such is the mesmerising power of Isabelle Huppert, the actress in the role of Michele, that we are held in thrall by her and contend with the existential reality.
Michele, the fifty-something CEO of a gaming company, is raped by a masked man in the opening scene. Everything else that follows goes against the grain, deviates from the expected proceedings. Michele does not report to the police. There is an air of nonchalance in the way she breaks the news to a few friends – as a part of dinner table small talk. She does not even actively seek to find the rapist – till he starts to needle her. And even when she starts the search, she does not let it become an obsession. Far from it, it is just something to tackle, that’s it.
In short, Michele refuses to let the rape & sexual violence overpower her life. And there is no moral high-ground or courage implied in whatever she does. She was sexually promiscuous and continues to be. When she uncovers the identity of the rapist, she incorporates the event and the person into her sexual life. In a matter of fact way. This sexual dalliance might be morally revolting to some, but to another, it might be the ultimate act of defiance. Michele simply doesn’t let anything browbeat her into submission. Yes, she has a dark past that has put some steel in her.
The movie also explores Michele’s relationships with the men in her life – her father, her ex-husband, her son, her employees – to name a few. Though she has borne the brunt of violence, Michele still exerts power all of her own , as an individual, as a business owner, and as a woman.
Isabelle Huppert is simply magnificent! She makes Michele believable inspite of all the incredulous things Michele does. If you are willing to be challenged on the paradigm of rape & sexual violence that you hold in your mind; if you are willing to explore how women can counter sexual or gender subjugation without conforming to any definition of social or moral good, Elle is the movie to see!