Oscars: France Selects 'Elle' for Foreign-Language Category

Elle 2 - H 2016
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Paul Verhoeven's controversial "rape comedy," starring Isabelle Huppert, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

France has selected Paul Verhoeven's Elle, starring Isabelle Huppert, as its submission for the best foreign-language film category at the Oscars. Elle, the first French-language film from Showgirls and Basic Instinct director Verhoeven, stars Huppert as a rape victim. The film drew stellar – if controversial – reviews in Cannes.

Dubbed a "rape comedy" when it had its world premiere at Cannes, the movie focuses on a 50-something woman, played by Huppert, who refuses to succumb to victimhood after she is viciously raped. "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, " THR's Leslie Felperin wrote, going on to say, "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."

Elle — which will be release in the United States by Sony Classics Pictures on Nov.  11 — was selected from a shortlist of four films, including Daniele Thompson’s Cezanne and I, starring Guillaume Canet and Guillaume Gallienne, Francois Ozon’s black-and-white post-World War I drama Frantz and Anne Fontaine’s Sundance entry The Innocents.

The selection committee was chaired by National Cinema Center head Frederique Bredin, Cannes Film Festival head Thierry Fremaux, French Academy president Alain Terzian, film promotion body Unifrance president Jean-Paul Salome, film financing aid body president Teresa Cremisi, Intouchables director Eric Toledano and actresses Sandrine Bonnaire and Bond star Lea Seydoux.

For films to be eligible for French selection, they had to have a theatrical release in France between Oct. 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2016. In addition, artistic control of the film had to be mostly held by French citizens or residents.

That added specification followed a controversy last year when creative control became a debate within the Academy. France selected Mustang, a Turkish-language drama shot in Turkey with a local crew but directed by dual citizen Deniz Gamze Erguven, last year. But Wolf Totem, a Chinese-language film shot in China by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud with a local crew, was disqualified by the Academy.

Mustang, which won five Cesar awards in France, was nominated in the foreign-language category last year, but Laszlo Nemes’ Holocaust drama Son of Saul took home the prize. 2011’s The Artist, which won five Oscars, including for best picture, was not France’s foreign-language submission that year.

The last French film to win the foreign-language Oscar was 1993’s Indochine, starring Catherine Deneuve. Overall, the country has won the foreign-language Oscar nine times, excluding honorary awards.