Elle film: Cannes' 'only real high point' was a movie by the director of RoboCop

It's been hailed 'the most empowering rape movie ever made'

As Cannes Film Festival comes to a close, The Hollywood Reporter has described it as a ‘fest of few lows, but only one real high’, and that is the much talked about Elle.

Unlikely for the high brow festival, it comes from Paul Verhoeven, the man behind, RoboCop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers and more, and centres on a woman’s complicated response to rape.

Here’s the synopsis:

‘Michèle LeBlanc seems indestructible. Head of a successful video game company, she brings the same ruthless attitude to her love life as to business. Being attacked in her home by an unknown assailant changes Michèle's life forever. When she resolutely tracks the man down, they are both drawn into a curious and thrilling game-a game that may, at any moment, spiral out of control.’

Elle was originally supposed to be shot in the US, but Verhoeven suspected he wouldn’t be able to find an American lead actress for such a controversial project, which has been described as “the most empowering rape movie ever made” but is expected to “draw ire from feminists”.

While a Sundance film on rape might typically focus on the severe emotional toll of the protagonist’s rape, Elle is a little different.

Paul Verhoeven during Tribeca Film Festival in 2013

‘Michele does not fall apart, or go into obvious shock, or go to the police or even shut down sexually after her attack,’ THR explains. ‘First she brushes up the broken crockery on the floor and tidies her house. Then she takes a bath (the bubbly froth goes red with blood above her vagina, suggesting how violent the rape was).

‘She continues to be as tough at work … continues to have trysts with her married lover and also has the hots for her strapping younger neighbor across the street.

‘In one delicious, perversely Hitchcockian-cum-Brian-DePalma-esqe scene, she masturbates while watching him, through binoculars, set up a Nativity scene with his hyper-Catholic wife. Michele, in short, refuses to see herself as a victim at all.’

Speaking to The Independent at Cannes, Verhoeven, who takes controversy in his stride, pointed out that it is not a revenge thriller, but something far more unsettling.

“In the American way, it would be a revenge movie but it absolutely isn’t a revenge movie,” he said.

He added that he has never shied away from showing sex in his work, just as filmmakers don’t with violence.

“Of course, sex in general is one of the most important things in the world, isn’t it?” And violence is the other,” he said.

“Sex in general is supposed to be creative and violence is destructive. But sometimes violence is necessary and sometimes sex can also turn into violence, as it is in this movie.”

Elle premiered at Cannes in May and is expected to be released in the UK later in the year.

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