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If you thought Elle director Paul Verhoeven and lead actress Isabelle Huppert were visibly shocked over their Golden Globes triumphs for their French-language rape drama, you’d be right.
“We were extremely surprised. We felt there were other candidates more deserving. You could see we were surprised,” Verhoeven on Sunday told a Berlinale Talents gathering at the Berlin Film Festival.
“It felt like a sudden gift and, of course, it was a gift,” he added, recalling a night on which Sony Pictures Classics’ Elle earned the best foreign-language film prize at the Golden Globes, while Huppert won the dramatic actress honor.
If Verhoeven is upset over his psychological thriller recently failing to be nominated for the Oscar foreign-language honor, he’s not showing it.
If anything, he and Huppert apparently never envisioned awards season glory of any kind when making Elle, long before a 15-minute standing ovation when debuting the film at Cannes. “I felt when we were making the movie, we didn’t have the idea it would be that successful. We did our work. We felt we’d done a pleasant job,” he said.
That meant a lot to Verhoeven, considering he was making a movie in French, a language he’d never mastered. He credits Huppert’s performance for elevating Elle to awards season recognition.
“She gave to the movie what I didn’t have in my head, neither did the producer, perhaps not even Isabelle. She often went to the set saying ‘I don’t understand this character, I can’t play it at all’,” he recounted.
The Robocop and Total Recall director who has long known the scorn of film critics is also more than surprised these days at the near universal critical applause for Elle.
“It’s a very nice coincidence, isn’t it?” Verhoeven said with customary Dutch understatement on Sunday. He has good reason to keep his distance from critics. “I made the movie called Showgirls, right?” he added when asked what drew him back to Europe to make movies after a successful Hollywood run.
Verhoeven said he wasn’t “black-listed,” but Hollywood after Showgirls only trusted him to make effects-driven sci-fi movies and not movies with dramatic realism like he had done in his native Holland.
“I couldn’t work anymore on something normal. And I was fed up with science fiction,” he insisted. Verhoeven had done sci-fi well, of course, and, today with his religious awakening after studying the life of Jesus Christ, and writing the 2007 book Jesus of Nazareth, Verhoeven on Sunday insisted that Robocop was in effect a Christ allegory.
“There’s a crucifixion in the beginning. I shot it as a crucifixion, and then we see the robot come to life. That’s really a resurrection,” he explained. Verhoeven also argued that Jesus Christ after his resurrection used few words.
“You notice his words: ‘I’m hungry. Do you have a fish’?” Ditto with RoboCop. “He also doesn’t say much. ‘Thank you for your cooperation.’ So I was really inspired by the New Testament. In short, that’s what it is,” Verhoeven said.
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