Isabelle Huppert is marvelous as the sixty-something head of a successful video game company who is raped in her apartment by a stranger in a ski mask. Refusing to tell the police, Michèle instead continues on as if nothing happened even as she begins to suspect that one of her resentful employees may be her attacker. Filled with mostly depressed and confused characters, somehow the film is never as bleak as its subject matter might lead you to believe.
Despite being raped in the movie's opening scene, Michèle is anything but a victim; she's smart, successful, and in complete control of both her company and libido. Elle isn't a revenge fantasy or a drama focused on our protagonist coming to terms with the attack. Director Paul Verhoeven, no stranger to erotic or psychological thrillers, has something much different in mind in screenwriter David Birke's adaptation of Philippe Djian's novel. And Michèle is no angel, sleeping with the husband (Christian Berkel) of her best friend (Anne Consigny), and lusting after her neighbor (Laurent Lafitte) despite their age difference and his wife (Virginie Efira).
There's also a subplot involving Michèle's weak-willed son (Jonas Bloquet) controlled completely by another strong-willed woman in his life (Alice Isaaz), who of course she cannot stand, and an under-developed plot thread involving the infamy of Michèle's father which informs the character's past (and her distrust of the police following the rape). Michèle's lack of control during the attack isn't lost elsewhere in her life as she continues a stranglehold over her company and loved ones. As the film takes a couple of surprising turns, however, we discover Michèle doesn't mind a violent fetish or two of her own as long as it happens on her terms (and when it doesn't, you better watch out). As with much of Verhoeven's work, Elle isn't a movie for everyone, but those not turned away from the subtitles or subject matter should enjoy a quality film highlighted by an amazing performance.