Movie Review: Paul Verhoeven is back with a vengeance with the corrosive Elle

Elle opens with a wealthy and beautiful middle-aged Parisian being raped on the parquet floor of her first-floor den by an intruder in a ski mask. The only witness to the attack is a black cat, which sits watching silently. This is the first image, the cat’s stare, a touch that’s grotesque and mysterious, like everything that follows in this deviously plotted and subversive black comedy. The woman, Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert), sweeps the broken glass into a dustpan and throws away her clothes. She has dinner with her son. She goes to sleep holding a hammer. The following morning, she arrives at her office like nothing happened, slinging her designer handbag.

It’s become a cliché of art films: the traumatic act of violence whose blank non-acknowledgement is a putative structuring absence that recasts banalities in a light of alienation or unsettlement and so on. But that …

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