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By Megan Bianco
The queen of French cinema, Isabelle Huppert, sits high on her throne this holiday season, with Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, a screen adaptation of Philippe Djian’s novel, Oh…. Despite all her triumphs in her home country with features like The Lacemaker (1977), Loulou (1980) and The Piano Teacher (2001), Huppert has never had much traction in the U.S. That could all change this year, as her performance in Elle is leading people to think she could go up against Emma Stone and Natalie Portman at the Oscars.
Cold as ice, Michèle Leblanc (Huppert) is a successful CEO of a video game company and also has a lazy son, Vincent (Jonas Bloquet); a trashy mom, Irène (Judith Magre); and a deadbeat dad in prison. When Michèle experiences a home invasion and is assaulted in the middle of a mid-December afternoon, she begins to reconsider the safety of her house as well as her relationships with the men in her life, including her ex-husband Richard (Charles Berling), and her lover, Robert (Christian Berkel).
Elle is a fascinating, although graphic, character study of a woman who is a victim, but does everything she can to not be pitied. Dutch-based Verhoeven, famous in the U.S. for blockbusters like Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1990) and Basic Instinct (1992), goes back to his Euro-film roots here and succeeds, for the most part. While the second half of the movie falls short of the quality of the first half, Huppert’s performance is worthy of viewing for anyone interested in seeing a pro at her craft.