Isabelle Huppert in a scene from "Elle"

sony pictures classics

Paul Verhoeven’s new film, Elle, came was a hit at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and certainly one of the most talked-about films of the year, sparking debate over its treatment of rape.

Adapted from the novel, “Oh…” by French writer Philippe Djian, David Birke’s screenplay is a mix of drama, comedy and thriller. The project, helmed by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, the provocateur filmmaker behind such films as Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and Starship Troopers. The film was initially to be set in America with a Hollywood actress as its star. But Verhoeven (78) couldn’t find anyone in the U.S. willing to appear in it, let alone to finance it, so the story went back to its source. “After two months of trying, the producer (Said Ben Said) and I decided to bring it back to France, we had a French novel and a French actress interested in doing it from the very beginning, so we rewrote the whole script back into French and that was the road we took,” says Verhoeven.

As the director likes to put it, Elle is a “human comedy" - a black human comedy that is. The protagonist, Michèle Leblanc, a leading video game company executive in Paris and divorced mother, brings the same ruthless attitude to her love life and to her business. Being attacked and raped in her home by an unknown assailant Michèle, through very unorthodox means, will seek revenge on her attacker. But as the movie presents her she is as much a victim as the casualty of the world she belongs to; and if this were not enough, Michèle is revealed to be the daughter of Charles Leblanc, a notorious 1970 serial killer, now safely behind bars.

French actress Isabelle Huppert gives an intense performance, holding the audience at bay with her portray of a woman dealing with the aftermath of her own rape. “I don’t think of Michèle as victim nor as an avenger, “explains Huppert, who doesn’t feel like falling into any predictable caricature and confesses to not like playing victims in her films. “Michèle doesn’t really think of what she’s going to do, she just does it,” continues the Huppert who emphasizes that as an actress she has to understand the character but not necessarily make her lovable for the audience.

Huppert, 63, is among the most celebrated actresses in world cinema. She is a two-time winner of the actress award at Cannes, and a winner of a Cesar award. She can  also be seen in the upcoming Things to Come, directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, in which she plays a philosophy professor whose husband abruptly leaves her, two very different performances that show the wide range of Huppert’s acting.