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Film / Elle

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The American poster is innocuous. The film is not.

Elle is a 2016 French Psychological Thriller film directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by David Birke, based on the 2012 novel Oh... by Philippe Djian.

Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert), founder of a successful video game company, is raped at her home by an unknown assailant. Events from her past make her distrustful of police, so instead of reporting the incident to the authorities, she tries to discover the identity of her rapist on her own.

This film provides examples of:

  • Amicable Exes: Richard and Michèle. The former is genuinely concerned about the latter and sometimes comes and checks to see if she's okay.
  • Batman Gambit: After Michèle tells Patrick she's going to call the police, she leaves her gate open, implying to Patrick that he should engage in foreplay again. However, Michèle staged it so that Vincent can beat Patrick to death, avenging herself and helping Vincent be a hero.
  • Black Comedy: Although of the darkest, most caustic variety possible.
  • Bros Before Hoes: Michèle and Anna banter into the end credits, friends for life, despite the fact that Anna's husband cheated on her with Michèle.
  • Burger Fool: Vincent, at least in the first half of the film, is a rare non-American instance of this trope.
  • Butt-Monkey: Michèle's ex-husband, Richard, is an alcoholic and a struggling writer. The first misfortune he received was getting his car's bumper broken by Michèle, then his girlfriend's car's front window shattered and he gets pepper-sprayed by Michèle. Later in the film, His girlfriend broke up with him because she realized she had mistaken him for another author. The author she admired just had a similar name.
  • Call-Back: Kevin, one of Michèle's employees who she hired to investigate the person behind the rape animation with her face, discovered a crush video of a woman stomping on roaches. Which refers back to the propaganda scene of children stomping on roaches in Starship Troopers.
  • Cat Scare: Midway through the film, when Michèle thinks the rapist is coming back in the middle of the night.
  • Chocolate Baby: Josie's and Vincent's baby.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Michèle hasn't entirely let go of Richard. While she's quite cordial to Hélène, his girlfriend, in person, when she comes over to her house for the party Michèle secretly plants a toothpick in a snack to be given to her.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Vincent and Josie, for most of the film, especially after the baby is born.
    • Vincent refuses to accept any suggestion that the baby is not his, despite the obvious.
  • Cool Shades: Michèle when out in public.
  • Crappy Holidays: The film largely takes place during the Christmas season.
    • During which, we also learn, Michèle's father massacred the neighborhood almost 40 years earlier.
  • Darkand Troubled Past: In spades. Michèle's troubling backstory is never fully explained.
  • Dinner and a Show: The dinner party Michèle hosts for her friends and family goes south when her mother announces she's engaged again, to Michèle's displeasure.
  • Driven to Suicide: Michèle's father, when he learns she is finally coming to see him in prison for the first time.
  • Driving Question: Who raped Michèle?note 
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Michèle manages to kill Patrick in a Batman Gambit, Vincent becomes a hero and Grew a Spine in the process, Michèle's father dies in prison, and the epilogue shows her reconciling with Josie and Anna.
  • Embarrassing Old Photo: The image of a half-naked, ash-covered Michèle, staring vacantly ahead, that became the signature image in the media of her father's mass-murder spree.
  • Fauxshadowing: During the lead-in to the scene where Michèle and Patrick go down to the basement ostensibly to look at the new water boiler he installed, the film seems to be hinting that he will attempt to kill her down there. Instead, they just have rough sex.
  • Footsie Under the Table: Michèle plays footsie with Patrick at the Christmas party.
  • Gay Paree: Very much averted. We only see one Establishing Shot showing the Île de la Cité and Notre Dame, otherwise the film shows only typical urban neighborhoods which could be in any French city, really.
  • Highly-Visible Ninja: The rapist's disguise
  • Homage Shot: The final shot of the film suggests its counterpart in Casablanca.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: The rapist's message on Michèle's laptop.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: They're not married, but Josie's forceful badgering of Vincent, and nonchalance at having let another man father their child, shows she is not unlike Michèle.
    • And while at first that may be why Michèle doesn't like her, after the scene where they scatter Michèle's mother's ashes she seems to realize that that's just what Vincent needs.
  • Masochism Tango: Michèle and Patrick.
  • My Beloved Smother: Michèle to Vincent, who lets her disappointment towards him be well known. That is until the end, when involving Vincent in her Batman Gambit to kill Patrick causes him to grow a spine.
  • Naughty Tentacles: The game developed by Michèle's company has tentacles in spades. A deliberately offensive mod with her face made by one of her employees, Kevin, is more blatant about it.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Deconstructed, actually more like problematized due to the rapist turning out to be Patrick, whom Michèle has developed a crush on and attempted to seduce before she learns he's the rapist.
  • Odd Couple: Michèle and Patrick, her rapist.
  • One-Word Title
  • Over The Top Christmas Decorations: The life-size illuminated figures of the Three Wise Men in front of Rebecca and Patrick's house. While this may not seem like a lot by American standards, the film takes place in France with all the characters being French, from whom we would usually expect more tasteful, restrained displays.
    • Justified by Rebecca being such a devout Catholic that she and her family take time off to go to Spain and join the pope on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
  • Parent with New Paramour: A source of friction between Michèle and Irène
  • Police Are Useless: Subverted in that Michèle's decision not to report the rape to police isn't because she doubts their competence but because of her experience with them after her father's crime when she was a child.
  • Pop-Up Texting: Averted; the character's phones are shown in extreme closeup when texts are important to the plot.
  • Product Placement: A lot for a French film:
    • Play Station 4 booths are visible at the game launch party.
    • Michèle at one point is seen using to search.
    • One of the developers conspicuously drinks a Red Bull
    • A McDonald's and Starbucks are seen in the street.
    • Hélène teaches Bikram yoga
    • The characters drive Audis, Toyotas and Volvos.
  • Rape as Backstory: The very first scene opens with a rape and it sets the tone of the movie.
  • Red Herring: The movie made some implications that Kurt, one of the employees of Michèle's company and the one who resents her the most, did rape her since he and her rapist wear similar clothing. He was also suspected as the person behind the rape animation that was sent around the company. It turns out Kurt is not the one who is behind of all this. Kevin, another employee Michèle hired to investigate the animation, is actually the one who made the animation. However, he did not rape her.
  • The Reveal: Patrick, who lives next door to Michèle, is her rapist.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The subplot with Michèle dragging her feet when it comes to acknowledging her mass murderer father comes to an Anti-Climax when he hangs himself after it was announced to him she was visiting.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Michèle is the daughter of a mass murderer and resents him for ruining her childhood.
  • Spiteful Spit: Averted. Michèle plans to do this to her father, but he kills himself before she can see him.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: After discovering Patrick is the rapist, instead of reporting him to police, Michèle seeks him out to experience it again.
  • There Is Only One Bed: Michéle and Anne share a bed, look longingly into each other's eyes, and come close to kissing.
  • Truth in Television: After the rape, Michèle shows some behavior common to rape victims in real life: emotional numbness, flashbacks to it from similar objects and being in the same space, and imagining what would have happened if she had fought back.
    • The rapist's later taunts via anonymous texts and his visit to the house where he leaves semen all over Michèle's bed and a message on her laptop saying he couldn't help himself are also similar to things done by real rapists.
  • Unscrupulous Heroine: Michèle stages sneak attacks and asks one of her workers to hack into everybody else's home computers in an attempt to find the rapist. When she's not doing that, she has affairs with two of her best friends' husbands as well as her neighbor's, jealously plants a toothpick in a snack her ex-husband's younger girlfriend will eat at a party and lies about many things.