To call director Paul Verhoeven provocative is like suggesting the Atlantic Ocean merely contains some water. He’s the man who gave us Saved by the Bell sweetheart Elizabeth Berkley licking a stripper’s pole in Showgirls and the splatterfest of Starship Troopers. A cursory glance at any of his films suggests his Taste-O-Meter is permanently set at ‘garish’ but his movies beg—actually they sit up and demand—for more than a cursory look.
His new movie, Elle, based on French-Armenian writer Philippe Djian’s award-winning 2012 novel Oh…, is a complex and corrosive psychological thriller about a woman seeking revenge on the man who raped her.
“Sometimes you are in a Hitchcock thriller,” says star Isabelle Huppert of the film. “Sometimes you are in a psychological study. Sometimes you are in a comedy and at the end of the day you are in none of those; you are in a Paul Verhoeven film.”
Verhoeven’s originally planned to relocate the story from France to the United States but ran into roadblocks.
“He makes no secret of that,” Huppert laughs. “I like that. He was completely clear. He didn’t want me. He wanted an American movie star. He didn’t get her so finally he came to get me.”
The Paris, France-born actress was a natural choice to play Michelle. She is a complicated character. As the daughter of a notorious serial killer she has developed a hard shell. She’s blunt to the point of rude with everyone from her future daughter-in-law and ex-husband to her mother and son, who she refers to as “a big lout with nothing special about him.” She’s having an affair with her best friend’s husband and even deliberately runs into her ex’s car then blames the damage on someone else.
“I read the novel first and thought it could potentially be a great film because it is very visual and the character is very interesting,” she says. “Then eventually the writer Philippe Djian said he always had me in mind while he was writing the novel. No wonder I immediately felt connected to the role.”
Elle is a deeply polarizing movie—in Cannes it was equally lauded and condemned—that treads some very delicate territory. Not that this is a delicate film. The assault is first heard, then seen in increasingly graphic detail as the running time climbs to the closing credits. The movie has taken some heat because it’s a male director making a film about a female reaction to assault. Huppert rejects the criticism.
“He told me very little and let me take the role wherever I wanted,” she says of Verhoeven. “That might be so that at the end you don’t have to measure the extent of the [male gaze]. The role is not a man’s fantasy. I don’t think so. The way she is halfway between a victim and the usual James Bondish avenger. She is really in an in between space which I think is, essentially, very, very, feminine. It is the exploration of something in between which makes the character very interesting, That doesn’t make the character like it was the product of a man’s fantasy. Plus as an actress, all the way through, I felt completely protected by him. I never felt the smallest sense of danger or being manipulated.”
To call director Paul Verhoeven provocative is like suggesting that the Atlantic Ocean merely contains some water. He’s the man who gave us “Saved by the Bell” sweetheart Elizabeth Berkley licking a stripper’s pole in “Showgirls” and the splatterfest of “Starship Troopers.” A cursory glance at any of his films suggests his Taste-O-Meter is permanently set at ‘garish but his movies beg—actually they sit up and demand—for more than a cursory look.
His new movie, “Elle,” based on French-Armenian writer Philippe Djian’s award-winning 2012 novel “Oh…,” is a complex and corrosive psychological thriller about a woman seeking revenge on the man who raped her.
In Verhoeven’s French-language debut Isabelle Huppert is Michèle, daughter of a serial killer and CEO of a video game company that specializes in erotic, violent games. As the film opens she is raped by a masked man. Instead of calling the police, however, she cleans up, sweeping up some broken glass before taking a bath and continuing her day. “I was assaulted at home,” she tells friends over dinner. “I guess I was raped.”
She is a complicated character. As the daughter of a notorious serial killer she has developed a hard shell. She’s blunt to the point of rude with everyone from her future daughter-in-law and ex-husband (Charles Berling) to her mother and son, who she refers to as “a big lout with nothing special about him.” She’s having an affair with her best friend’s husband and even deliberately runs into her ex’s car then blames the damage on someone else.
Initially challenged by flashbacks of the assault her steadfastness kicks in as she refuses to allow fear to rule her life. Shortly after the rape she is back at work, scolding one of her programmers, suggesting “the orgasmic convulsions” of one of her game’s ogre characters are “way too timid.”
To give away any more would do a disservice to the film as Verhoeven relies on surprise to unfurl the rest of the occasionally darkly funny story.
“Elle” is a deeply polarizing movie—in Cannes it was equally lauded and condemned—that treads some very delicate territory. Not that this is a delicate film. The assault is first heard, then seen in increasingly graphic detail as the running time climbs to the closing credits. It’s unpleasant, but that is the point. But as jarring as it may be, it is only the beginning of the plot machinations of this dark and dirty suspense.
There will be no spoilers here. For one thing it’s rude to give too much away, and for another, it would take more space than I have here to describe the deep psychological depths Verhoeven and Huppert plumb in this story. It’s fearless stuff, a character study of a captivating anti-heroine who demands your attention while simultaneously pushing you away in scene after scene as she refuses to allow fear to dominate her life.
It’s easy to use words like grotesque, grim and provocative to describe “Elle,” and they would be appropriate but underneath its lurid skin is a Hitchcock movie minus the sexual repression. It’s up to you to decide if that’s a good thing for your sensibilities or not.
Richard talks Cannes and Xavier Dolan with the Canadian Press.
“I think he’s got probably a pretty good shot certainly at being taken seriously as a contender, even thought he’s up against the who’s who of international filmmakers like Ken Loach, Pedro Almodovar, Paul Verhoeven, Sean Penn,” says Toronto-based film reviewer Richard Crouse.
“There are a lot of people here that are working at a very high level, but I’d suggest that Xavier Dolan is working at just as high a level.”
“The Wizard of Oz” has lived at the very center of popular culture for more than a hundred years. David Lynch cribbed from the story for his film “Wild at Heart,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is filled with references from books and isn’t C3PO just the Tin Man in a gold suit?
A new film—actually a remake of a much-loved 1987 movie—brings a new Tin Man to town. “RoboCop” stars Joel Kinnaman as the half human, half robot police officer who struggles to find his heart.
Set in 2028 the story takes off when Detroit cop and family man Alex James Murphy (“The Killing’s” Kinnaman) is almost blown to bits by a drug dealer looking to silence him. Burnt on eighty percent of his body, missing limbs, deaf and blind in one eye, the bomb appeared to have done the job. That is until OmniCorp, a multinational company run by ruthless businessman Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) sees a marketing opportunity with the fallen hero.
The company’s totally robotic law enforcement drones are being used worldwide with effective but deadly results. OmniCorp wants to expand into the lucrative American market but is stymied by Senator Hubert Dreyfuss (Zach Grenier) and his question: How can a robot know what it means to take a life if it has never lived a life?
Murphy is the answer. The catastrophically injured officer becomes the ghost in the machine, an organic brain for a mostly robotic body in a suit tailored by Daft Punk. He’s a rootin’, tootin’ crime fighting machine, but will the human part of the robot fight its way to the surface and allow Alex to get his robo-revenge on those who have done him wrong?
Paul Verhoeven’s “RoboCop” was social satire that used ideas about corporations and privatizing the police as a jumping off point for some pointed—if action packed—commentary. Today’s “RoboCop” doesn’t have the same shock appeal.
In our world where Detroit has gone bankrupt, unable to afford decent policing and national food chains use yoga mat chemicals in their bread, the black humor of the first film is now a dark reality laced with some man-machine ennui. It’s less fun than the original, but does have some high points.
Swedish born Kinnaman gives the character a Nordic sense of ennui that would make Ingmar Bergman grin. Alex is, for a while at least, tormented by the idea of his very existence. He brings some stoicism to the role and does an OK job of jawbone acting under the heavy mask but the emotional connection that Peter Weller forged with the characters (and the audience) in the original is missing. Murphy’s wife is nicely played by Abbie Cornish but despite some scenes with her and his son David (John Paul Ruttan) the story is focused elsewhere.
More expressive are Gary Oldham and Michael Keaton. Oldham takes a generic, morally divided scientist and gives him spark, while Keaton relishes playing the bad guy. Samuel L. Jackson also livens things up as a Glen Beck type TV host who fuels the flames of controversy with incendiary statements like, “Has the US Senate become pro-crime?”
All three are big performances that stand out in a big, loud movie, but central to the story is a smaller role from Jay Baruchel as OmniCorp’s head of marketing. He’s a corporate weasel who works amoral marketing angles to make RoboCop palatable to the public. “He transforms!” he says. “Kids love it. Focus numbers are through the roof.”
Baruchel doesn’t over or underplay the character, he simply allows him to breath and in doing so creates the most chillingly realistic portrait of venality in the film. He’s the real wizard behind the curtain.
“RoboCop” is a more generic film than its predecessor. It simply doesn’t have the vulgar verve that Verhoeven brought to the original, but between the explosions and bullets it does tackle some big, timely questions about drone warfare and corporate responsibility. The movie doesn’t exactly take the time to tackle and then wrestle these ideas to the ground, but hey, at least the new suit is really cool. It’s enough to make Oz’s Tin Man jealous.
If the original RoboCop movie is any indication, sometimes life does imitate art.
The 1987 film shows a crime-ridden and financially ruined Detroit turning to a part-human, part-robot cop to police the streets. As far as I know, no cyborgs have ever patrolled the neighbourhoods of Motor City, but 27 years after the movie hit theatres, Michigan’s most populous city declared Chapter Nine, becoming the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.
Fosterwealth.com wrote, “With Detroit’s bankruptcy, we’ve seen much of RoboCop come to pass,” while screenwriter Ed Neumeier remembers a note written in the margin of his copy of the script, “The future left Detroit behind.”
The writer also told CNN, “We are now living in the world that I was proposing in RoboCop.”
The original Peter Weller movie lived at the centre of popular culture when it came out, spawning two sequels, a television series, two animated shows, a mini-series, video games and several comic books.
And today RoboCop is still a going concern.
Later this year a 10-foot-tall tribute statue will be unveiled in Detroit and this week a remake will become the first RoboCop movie to be released in IMAX.
The new RoboCop is an all-star affair, with Swedish star Joel Kinnaman as the title character and appearances from Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson and Jay Baruchel. Just don’t expect a straight-up copy. “I’m not trying to remake RoboCop,” says director José Padilha, “because I don’t think RoboCop is remake-able.”
Instead, Kinnaman says, the new film will be “realistic,” and “will have a satirical quality… It’s going to have that wink in the eye, but we’re not looking to replicate the [original director Paul] Verhoeven tone.”
The one thing the two films have in common for sure is that while both are set in Detroit, neither used the city as the principal shooting location. Verhoeven filmed his movie in Pennsylvania and Texas whereas the new movie was lensed mainly in Toronto and Vancouver.
Even criminals love RoboCop
Another incident illustrates how the film aided real life law enforcement… at least once.
A robbery suspect/movie fan in Sacramento, Calif., tried to elude police by hiding out in a movie theatre showing RoboCop. He became so immersed in the film he didn’t notice the cops evacuating the audience, leaving him alone and busted when the lights came on.