Elle - Complex Characterisation; Where Functionality Meets Dysfunction

Quick Thoughts: Elle (2016)

A CEO of a gaming company with a complex past is raped and must now confront many of her inner demons whilst trying to deal with her ever intensifying present situation.

This is one fucked up film - somewhat like a genre(ish) version of The Piano Teacher - and I quite like it. It has a few problems, however I ultimately was drawn in and immersed into this rather muddled narrative. In seeing a middle-aged woman handle and come to terms with (in her own incredibly... idiosyncratic way) being raped, we are pushed through many thematic avenues that include religion, suppression, control, crime and so much more. This produces a compounded narrative that does become pretty absurd at points. Before getting into this, it has to be said that performances throughout are pretty strong. The camera work is solid, but never really expresses incredibly powerful cinematic language. And lastly, the editing... this is probably the worst part of the film. It's not awful, but there are many points at which continuity becomes jarringly off. Moreover, scenes could have been shortened in many sequences. When the lesser editing comes together with the more mediocre camera work, we often get action or stunt scenes. These are the elements of the film that are most poorly constructed as there is no weight nor verisimilitude to many of the assault sequences. This all plays into the wider narrative as believability is a key aspect of this movie that Verhoeven has a strange relationship with.

First things first, this is a crime-mystery film that becomes very dramatic and off-genre by the time we reach the midway point. What both of those details connote are plot twists, reveals and other big narrative beats. But, very few of these caught me off guard and, in fact, I actually guessed who the rapist is as soon as I saw his face. This, however, isn't too much of a bad thing. The negative side to this narrative design is that it produces melodrama; translation, a movie you can't take seriously. This is quite damaging to the way you'll perceive the film as it does mean to be taken somewhat seriously. There are many moments of dark (though not explicit and gratuitous) comedy. However, the main themes chosen throughout this film are never approached satirically. And so, to see this film as a melodrama without much verisimilitude is counterproductive as it leaves whatever narrative message there is to be found in this film rather unattractive; that is to say, you feel some resistance when you try to take this film seriously and analyse its very grave themes.

For this reason, I don't really see Elle as a deep and profound film on the grounds of its themes. Instead, this film, to me, contains a nice exploration of the line between 'normal' people who function well in society and amongst others, and not so functional people with fractured pasts and complex inner predicaments. The way in which we see these two sides of humanity interact throughout this film is very investing. But, as implied, this isn't overwhelmingly thought provoking - not to me at least. The true substance of this film, in my eyes, is the manner in which characters are constructed to set up this paradigm of functionality and dysfunction. Taking a step back to the predictable plot twists, this is the reason why I could guess the identity of the rapist within the opening 15 minutes. Recognising that character and theme are strongly linked, you can precisely tap into the mind of the screenwriter, David Birke, when watching this film. In such, you can see the step-by-step set up as he constructs it; you can see the evidence and the character traits for later atrocities being explained from the get go. This is what I really enjoyed when watching this film. Whilst the narrative is somewhat transparent, I felt like I was (in a way) re-watching a movie I enjoyed the first time seeing it. And in 're-watching' Elle and recognising the mechanics of the script, I gained a true appreciation for the narrative design.

So, all in all, Elle has a few problems, but is a good film with great characters. Have you seen this movie? What are your thoughts?

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