Monday 31 October 2016

The Current Cinema - Verhoeven's ELLE provokes a lively Facebook conversation

Verhoeven directs Huppert
Editors Note:  Eddie Cockrell's review    of Paul Verhoevens latest film Elle, his first film in a decade and his first made in France,  brought to attention that the film has been the subject of much critical controversy. A Facebook post linking up to Eddies note on the Film Alert blog caused a most interesting conversation to take place. Ive edited the contributions and reposted it for greater enjoyment. 

Please note SPOILER ALERT. Peter Hourigan gives away lots of plot points.

Peter Hourigan I saw ELLE today - and it's still hammering at me. I'm not sure that this captures all what I saw. In fact, I'm not sure what I saw - and this is what's so intriguing. To start - was it a rape? That's a big question - but perhaps it was part of an ongoing SM relationship between Huppert and her neighbour. I think there's more than enough evidence for this to be a possibility. And then, there is also the possibility that much of what we see is part of Huppert's fantasy - though I think this approach to the film is more problematic. And is the film exploiting rape for entertainment? Or saying women have fantasies of violent rape? Or is it an examination of a damaged life - a life damaged as a child? All these possibilities are aspects that make this a film worthy of lots of focus and discussion. What I'll ultimately decide about it, I don't know - but how good to have a film that really challenges a smug complacency to it like this does

Eddie Cockrell You're exactly right, Peter, this is a deep and complex film. My review, like many others, skates over the basics and I even mention that the viewer should be allowed to peel back the layers for themselves. "Still hammering at me" says it all.

David Hare Saw this in Paris in June. I must say it did absolutely nothing for me, and I was frankly surprised to see people responding to la Huppert's part and performance as something original, rather than a retread of so many other Huppert suffering roles. As for Verhoeven I prefer the old middlebrow glossy trash Verhoeven of Showgirls and Spetters for all their gaudy bisexual semi soft core porn. This is a ponderous Verhoeven merely mimicking Haneke (without the wit.) Sorry guys.

Eddie Cockrell That's why they make different coloured jelly beans, as we used to say in the Reagan years (without the extraneous "u," of course).

Peter Hourigan David, a few thoughts (and spoilers coming. People who haven’t seen the film should NOT proceed.) This is a film where so much is unexpected – not so much events, but in people’s reactions. It starts with that violent rape, after which Michele goes about cleaning up the apartment almost detached. What’s wrong with her, we think. Later she has a Christmas party at which she starts playing with Patrick’s crotch under the table. Doesn’t she think he may react in a way that will shame her? Or does she know – because of their secret relationship with its violent love-making – that he’ll (um) keep it all under the table? At the end, as Patrick’s wife (now widow) is leaving the neighbourhood she doesn’t seem as grief-stricken as we’d expect, and actually thanks Michele for giving Patrick what she couldn’t – real puritanical church mouse that she is. Did she know about a violent, ongoing relationship between Patrick and Michele? So, Michele has certainly a complex psychological present. And we know she has a fraught psychological history – from at least the age of ten when she was close to her father when he was arrested for a violent mass murder (not serial killer as sometimes said). He’s still in her life even though he’s been in prison ever since. And I’ve said nothing about her relationship with her mother! What happened to her psyche as a result of being in this family?

She’s a woman with strong sexual instincts, and a very public way of satisfying and controlling them. How much is she a calculating woman in her relationships – think of when and how she tells her best friend she’s been having an affair with her friend’s husband? She knows their friendship will survive. And what questions there are about how she cranks up the pornographic level in the video games she’s producing. Huppert’s performance with its insights into the public face and the private interior, the present behaviour and the small girl’s history is nothing more than miraculous.
There are no clear answers, just lots of possibilities. Think of the final ‘rape’ and the resulting death. Remember that she arranged so that got a lift home with Patrick – and she knew her son was in the house. So, perhaps she knew that the outcome would be as it was - the final making of Vincent from a milksop into a man! And that mission would seem to have been accomplished. So, do we have a victim of the worst possible crime against a person? Or a calculated, calculating, clever, cold-hearted, emotionally dead but still very sexually alive woman? Ultimately, only the viewer can decide how they read all this.

Claire Denis, Les Salauds
David Hare Peter your defence is eloquent and I respect it but I would still rather take Claire Denis' immaculately shaped and felt Les Salauds (France, 2013) for instance any time over Verhoeven's convolutions - which is how I see them in what is purporting to be sexually transgressive material. I think I am just not convinced by Verhoeven's latter day conversion to "serious" intentions here, and I can never see him as other than a moderately entertaining sexploitation artists (no sin there) whose ideal producer should always be the king of expensive trash, Joe Esterhasz,

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