February 6, 2017

Elle (2016)

Isabelle Huppert

You know how people like to throw out the words "trigger warning" as some kind of insult to what they perceive as snowflake babies who can't handle information they disagree with? There's a reason trigger warnings were invented and it's not because people are crybabies. It's because far too many people have experienced horrible acts of violence and watching or reading about similar events can cause them to re-live their painful experiences, causing further trauma. This movie should have a trigger warning.

The movie opens on a woman being raped. I was going to say "sexually assaulted" because, well, rape sounds so brutal. But it is rape. And it is brutal. And softening the terminology isn't going to make it any less so. And frankly, it doesn't do anyone any favors to soften the description of something so terrible. 

So this woman is raped. And when it's over, she gets up and moves on with life. Except she can't. Because, well, does it really need an explanation why? So we watch her trudge through life, scarred from this attack, and wonder how we'd react in the same situation.

As the movie progresses, we learn more about her, and the reasons for her behavior become clearer. But you never quite like her. And that is what makes the movie remarkable. It is a movie centered around a strong, but rather unlikable woman, who deals with a traumatic event in a way that defies most people's logic. 

Maybe that doesn't sound remarkable, but really, how many movies center around strong, unlikable women? I don't think it's groundbreaking to announce that while men have been getting leading roles with complex men, women have been largely relegated to predictable tropes like "the bitch," "the good girl," etc, or everyone's favorite, "manic pixie dream girl." To see a movie about a woman who is so complex you can't decide if you hate her or want to give her a fucking medal for succeeding in the face of such obstacles, well, I call that remarkable. And it's in French, because honestly, I can't imagine a US studio producing anything remotely this controversial.

Like pretty much every other French film I've ever watched, it's weird. And dark. And extremely difficult to sit through. But I love that it's out there and that it's getting so much exposure. I can only hope that this signals a future with more complicated leading roles for women.

Final word: Agony.

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