Tag Archives: Michael Haneke

Elle (2016)

Some things work in theory, but not in practice. Elle is that type of movie. Isabelle Huppert (Amour) plays Michèle LeBlanc, a woman who is raped by a masked stranger at her home. Michèle lives by herself, runs her own video game developer, and supports her less-than-capable son and mother. She is emblematic of a strong, independent woman. So strong, that after the rape, she doesn’t change anything. She doesn’t call the police and goes about her life like normal. It isn’t until a few days later that she reveals to close friends what happened. Due to a childhood trauma, she doesn’t trust the police and decides to buy pepper spray, change the locks of her house, and identify her assailant herself, believing him to be someone she knows.

Director Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop) restrains himself from being being too explicit with the actual rape scene but cannot stop himself from being pulled into more twisted ideas. After Michèle discovers the culprit, her relationship with him enters unexpected territory. There is the implication that whether it was unwanted is not as clear as we initially believed. Anytime a filmmaker decides to explore consent, he or she opens up a can of worms. The topic is both intricate and delicate. Films like Straw Dogs have used situations of possibly changing consent successfully before, but their intentions were different. Verhoeven is trying to present an ideal of a strong woman, but this wrinkle in her character undermines her fortitude. It conflicts with her previously established traits and makes later story elements feel abrupt and unearned.

Michèle is fully in control of her life.
Michèle is fully in control of her life and refuses to relinquish that.

That being said, there are few actresses more capable of playing this part than Isabelle Huppert. Having worked with tough directors like Michael Haneke that deal with difficult subject matter, she is perfectly equipped to tackle the challenging role. Huppert, now 63, is absolutely convincing in her determination. She is the type of woman who runs her business, runs her family, and is not about to let anyone get in the way of that. Her performance is the only aspect making the character believable. It is also exciting to see the type of work she does. Rarely, if ever, has an older woman been portrayed leading an industry dominated by young men. She is confronted by employees who don’t believe she is qualified to be in her line of work, but quickly shuts them down with her knowledge and conviction. The issue, that is no way to be blamed on Huppert, is the character’s response to her assault.

There is a kind of faux-feminism on display here. Verhoeven presents Michèle’s handling of her attack as an ideal to be strived towards. Of course, a person capable of immediately moving on after such a violent experience would be an incredibly resilient individual, but the absence of any sort of emotional fallout here is troublesome. By ignoring these after effects, Verhoeven implicitly denies the long-lasting trauma rape survivors face. He asserts that it is possible, or even best, to simply move on and get back at the attacker. This isn’t necessarily surprising given that he is the same man who directed films like Showgirls and Basic Instinct, but it is still unacceptable. In fact his presentation can be viewed as the stereotypical, and emotionally safe, male response. Don’t feel things! Just get revenge!

It could, incorrectly, be argued that Verhoeven is aiming for more genre fare. Elle might be interpreted as a modern, arthouse take on films like I Spit on Your Grave, but it’s clear that the director has a much loftier impression of his own work. He is attempting to create a role model of how to deal with this type of attack, but isn’t willing to fully explore its aftermath. Verhoeven chooses to neglect the complex emotional damage of sexual assault in favor of a simplistic and often perverted revenge story.

2/5 stars.

Top Films of 2015

Yes, I realize it’s almost halfway through 2016 already, but I wanted to be thorough and make sure I watched as many of 2015’s output before finalizing my list. The year end onslaught of Academy Award-ready films can be difficult to keep up with when you have another full-time job to attend to. Without further ado, here are my favorite films of the previous year.

11. Shaun the Sheep the Movie

Immaculately detailed and expertly choreographed, Shaun the Sheep is yet another great stop-motion film from Aardman Animations, the makers of Chicken Run. The film pulls from the best silent movies to produce an endearing, slapstick comedy with endlessly entertaining visual gags.

10. Predestination

presdestination1“What if I could put him in front you, the man that ruined your life?” Ethan Hawke plays a temporal agent traveling through time with his recruit Sarah Snook to prevent the bombings of a terrorist known as “The Fizzle Bomber”. The plot doesn’t take itself too seriously and instead makes use of the strong performances from its leads to explore the nature of cause and effect. Predestination is fun, twisty sci-fi at its best.

9. The Gift

The directorial debut of actor Joel Edgerton is a psychological thriller masquerading as a horror film. After Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) move to Los Angeles they run into an old friend of Simon, Gordo (Edgerton), who begins making unannounced visits and giving overly generous presents. Slowly the relationship dissolves and the past between Simon and Gordo is brought into question. Edgerton’s film draws heavy influence from Michael Haneke’s Caché in that it focuses on the guilt and repercussions of the past. Does time really heal all wounds? The Gift has a response to that question.

8. Meet the Patels

Meet the Patels is a heartfelt, often hilarious, documentary about the issues faced by 1st generation Americans caught between the culture they experience every day and that of their heritage. Co-directed by brother and sister Ravi and Gita Patel, the film shows Ravi as he takes the plunge into finding a spouse through an arranged marriage. Instead of making this overly serious, Meet the Patels affectionately focuses on the importance of bonds between this charismatic family.

7. 99 Homes

Centered on the 2008 housing crisis, 99 Homes looks at the human cost of financial disaster. Andrew Garfield plays a young construction worker kicked out of his family home by Michael Shannon. What ensues is an unexpectedly tense exploration of both the winners and losers of the collapse. It shows what greed, desperation, and even success can do to the relationships we value most.

6. Spotlight

Spotlight features news reporters tackling a deep rooted problem deliberately hidden by the powers that be. The year’s best ensemble cast featuring Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo deal with the struggle of not only finding the truth but clashing with the culture of a city and a religion. Always somber and honest, Spotlight treats its serious subject matter with the respect and attention to detail it deserves.

5. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

This film follows a boy and his friend as they begin a relationship with a girl who has just been diagnosed with cancer. While it falls into many of the standard Sundance tropes, it elevates above these with the gravity of its subject matter. The main character has to come to terms with his friend’s condition as well as his own changing life. Part coming of age story and part tribute to cinema (the film features “sweded” parody versions of classics a la Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind), Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl is an expertly directed film about dealing with loss during adolescence.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller revives his classic franchise with some of the best vehicular combat ever shown on screen. The film is a 2 hour long car chase that uses incredible practical stunts that put the standard CG effects to shame. With breakneck pacing and surprisingly poignant quiet moments, Mad Max: Fury Road is the automobile action movie we’ve been waiting 30 years for.

3. The Tribe

Filmed using only deaf actors signing and lacking any subtitles, The Tribe is an experiment in visual storytelling. At first, the decision seems troublesome as it immediately alienates the audience, but as the film continues the subtleties of each scene begin to tell the story. The gait of a character, the way they stand next to others, or the speed at which they sign all convey the actions taking place. As The Tribe explores an underground crime ring at a school for the deaf, it uses its purely visual approach to wordlessly express complex emotions.

[BS Note: NSFW. Extremely explicit and not for everyone]

2. Wild Tales

Composed of six unrelated humorous revenge stories, Wild Tales showcases scenarios exaggerated just slightly beyond the realm of reality but not out of its reach. The characters, while seemingly normal, always overreact to their situations leading to ridiculous outcomes. The film is bursting with manic energy and earns its laughs through creative set ups. Easily the funniest film of the year.

1. Love

When Gaspar Noé announced his next movie was going to be called Love, I thought the title must be ironic. Surely the man who directed Irreversible and is often accused of nihilism wasn’t actually covering that territory. Yet, that is exactly what he did. Love is simultaneously Noé’s most personal and most indulgent work. There are characters named both Gaspar and Noé with the latter played by him and some scenes are exercises in unnecessary exhibitionism. Most of the news covering the film has focused on the details of its production and its explicit nature, but that is missing the point of the movie. Love, flaws included, is exactly the film Noé wanted to make. It’s a film that explores all aspects of the titular emotion. The spark of a new relationship, the heartbreak that can follow, and, unlike other films, physical desires. In other movies, intimate scenes between characters are unnecessary and voyeuristic, almost like a requirement needed to show how “adult” a film is. Here, Noé builds the entire film around these scenes. The physical contact is an extension of the emotions felt by the characters. With only a few exceptions, they are meaningful scenes that develop the characters and build their relationships. Combined with Benoît Debie’s beautiful visuals and an entrancing soundtrack, the film casts a hypnotic spell, pulling the viewer into the feelings – both physical and emotional – that love brings.

[BS Note: NSFW. Extremely explicit and not for everyone]

Honorable Mentions:

  • Sicario
  • Brooklyn
  • About Elly
  • Steve Jobs