'Elle' Trailer: Isabelle Huppert Stars as Powerful Video-Game Exec Dealing With Rape

Courtesy of TIFF
'Elle'

Paul Verhoeven's provocative French-language film stirred up debate when it premiered in Cannes and is set to screen at the Toronto and New York film festivals this fall.

The first trailer for Paul Verhoeven's provocative Cannes film Elle, about a powerful video-game executive who is attacked and raped in her house, has debuted online.

In the preview, Isabelle Huppert's Michele matter-of-factly informs a group of people at a restaurant that she was assaulted at home but is, as she says, fine.

Michele is then shown at work, where she forcefully disagrees with a male colleague about a video game that appears to depict a similar attack. She continues to deal with the rape, flashing back to the incident and proudly stating that she can deal with "nutjobs." They're her specialty. Indeed, Michele tracks down her assailant, drawing the two of them into a game that could spiral out of control.

The film, in French with English subtitles, is Dutch director Verhoeven's (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) first feature in more than a decade. The movie, which was quickly labeled as a "rape comedy" for its dark humor and the fact that its main character is brutally raped early in the movie, provoked heated discussion among critics after it premiered at Cannes.

In her critic's notebook, The Hollywood Reporter's Leslie Felperin touched on Elle's controversial approach:

"Elle complicates its rape narrative with an exploration of female masochism — a theme rarely addressed in current cinema, where masochism tends to only be allowed if it’s consensual and part of a controlled BDSM diet a la Fifty Shades. [Michele] certainly doesn’t want to be raped, but once the incident happens (it’s shown several times in flashback, and each time it’s categorically clear that this indeed is a rape), the trauma stirs up uncomfortable feelings in her," Felperin writes. "And those feelings don’t match what we've been conditioned to expect from standard depictions of sexual violence in various art forms. Michele does not fall apart, or go into obvious shock, or go to the police or even shut down sexually after her attack. … Michele, in short, refuses to see herself as a victim at all. There will undoubtedly be feminists who take umbrage with the film, and not just because of its complex, intertwined examinations of desire, masochism and power. Some, I suspect, will denounce it for showing a rape victim refusing to report her rapist, and therefore not setting a good example. … Others will be shocked that Michele doesn’t show sufficient rage. … For me, Elle is perhaps the smartest, most honest and empowering film about rape I’ve ever seen — because while it's about damage, it's also about resilience and how whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger."

THR reviewer Jordan Mintzer also praised the film, calling it "a tastefully twisted mid-to-late-life crisis thriller that’s both lasciviously dark and rebelliously light on its feet — a story about a 50-something woman who is dealt several blows over the course of a few months and fights back with authority, mockery and a fat can of pepper spray."

Sony Pictures Classics acquired rights in North America and other key territories to Elle, which has earned an R rating in the U.S. and will follow its Cannes debut with screenings at next month's Toronto International Film Festival as well as the upcoming New York Film Festival. Elle is set to open in New York on Nov. 11 and in Los Angeles on Nov. 16.

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