Lead-produced by Said Ben Said’s SBS Productions, a company which has a strong line in films from some of Europe and America’s biggest name directors – one of its largest successes was Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” — “Elle” stars Huppert as the head of a top European video games company, a woman who seems indestructible, has it all, is always in control, is ruthless in business and is in love.
One night, as she lets the cat in, a masked man in a ski suit bursts into her home, and rapes her.
The attack changes Michele’s life forever. She reacts, resolutely, learns to fire a gun, sleeps with a hammer on her pillow, begins to suspect the assailant may be one of her employees, orders their email accounts to be hacked. As she tracks down the man, she is drawn into what “Elle’s” production notes describe as a “curious” and “thrilling” game and her life threatens to spiral out of control. As her ex-husband puts it, “Your greatest danger is yourself.”
Co-starring Laurent Lafitte (“Crimson Rivers”) and Anna Consigny (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) and written by David Birke (“13 Sins”), adapting the novel “Oh…” by Phlippe Djian, “Elle” is a thriller. But it’s not just a rape revenge movie, Verhoeven insisted to Variety. And it’s not only about Michele, he added.
It’s “a mystery story. Part of the film consists in Isabelle Huppert’s character finding out if the rapist is somebody she knows. But there are other elements in the story: Her mother and father, her son, her lover, her best friend.”
French reviewer Astrid de Larmonat went as far, indeed, to call the novel a portrait of contemporary disorder: Michele is divorced and having an affair with her best-friend’s husband; her mother has a string of thirtysomething lovers: Her son has a girlfriend who’s pregnant by another man.
The film’s center, however, will no doubt be Huppert, playing a woman of absolute confidence in her powers suddenly expelled from her comfort zone, like many Verhoeven protagonists, in an experience she finds exciting, though it could be her perdition.
Huppert “does experiments in her mind to get to places that she would probably avoid in reality. And she does that in an absolutely unique way,” Verhoeven said.
As a filmmaker, Verhoeven positively recommends stepping out of a comfort zone: “I had a strong feeling with this one that I was doing something that I’d never done before, which applied when I made ‘RoboCop,’ which was something I’d never done before. There’s a jump between my Dutch movies and ‘RoboCop.’
He added: “But this stepping into the unknown, I think it’s very important in the life of an artist. It puts you in an existential mode. As an artist you have to, as much as possible, step into the unknown and see what happens to you.”
“ ‘Elle’ is a gripping thriller and a fascinating portrait of a woman played by Isabelle Huppert,” Said Ben Said commented.
Produced by Paris-based SBS Productions, the film, in post-production, is co-produced by France 2 Cinema, the film arm of Gallic pubcaster channel, Belgium’s Entre Chien et Loup and Germany’s Twenty Twenty Vision Filmproduktion. Ben Said and Michel Merkt take producer credits.
Sold by SBS International and distributed in France by SBS Distribution, “Elle” will be open in French cinemas on Sept. 21.