- Phantom Thread.
(Paul Thomas Anderson)
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
(Joel & Ethan Coen)
- The Rider.
- Teret. (The Load)
- Under the Silver Lake.
(David Robert Mitchel)
- Les Garçons Sauvages. (The Wild Boys)
Would not have been misplaced in my top 10 either:
The House that Jack Built.
(Lars von Trier)
The Beauty and the Dogs.
(Kaouther Ben Hania)
A Ghost Story.
Human, Space, Time and Human.
The Disater Artist.
(John Carroll Lynch)
Ce Magnifique Gâteau! (The Magnificent Cake)
(Emma De Swaef & Marc James Roels)
Lazzaro Felice. (Happy as Lazzaro)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms 3D.
(Lasse Hallström & Joe Johnston)
Call Me By Your Name.
The Florida Project.
(John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein)
The Shape of Water.
(Guillermo del Toro)
The Death of Stalin.
The Sisters Brothers.
A Prayer Before Dawn.
Le Temps où les Arabes dansaient. (When Arabs Danced)
Not bad either:
Woman at War. (Benedikt Erlingsson)
Sweet Country. (Warwick Thornton)
Shoplifters. (Hirokazu Kore-Eda)
McQueen. (Ian Bonhôte & Peter Ettedgui)
Twarz. (Mug) (Malgorzata Szumowska)
Ceres. (Janet Van den Brand)
The Greenaway Alphabet. (Saskia Boddeke)
3 Faces. (Jafar Pahani)
Ni Juge, ni soumise (So Help Me God) (Yves Hinant, Jean Libon)
Capharnaüm. (Nadine Labaki)
Hereditary. (Ari Aster)
Lowlife. (Ryan Prows)
Au Poste! (Keep an Eye Out) (Quentin Dupieux)
Wajib. (Annemarie Jacir)
Foxtrot. (Samuel Maoz)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (Martin McDonagh)
Isle of Dogs. (Wes Anderson)
Hostiles. (Scott Cooper)
Ralph Breaks the Internet. (Phil Johnston & Rich Moore)
Der Hauptmann. (The Captain) (Robert Schwentke)
Caniba (Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel)
RBG. (Julie Cohen & Betsy West)
Breathless. (Daniel Lambo)
Jusqu’à la Garde. (Custody) (Xavier Legrand)
Red Sparrow. (Francis Lawrence)
Nos Batailles. (Our Struggles) (Guillaume Senez)
Beautiful Boy. (Felix van Groeningen)
Gueule d’ange. (Angel Face) (Vanessa Filho)
A Star is Born. (Bradley Cooper)
Private Life. (Tamara Jenkins)
Plaire, aimer et courir vite. (Sorry Angel) (Christophe Honoré)
Brawl in Cell Block 99. (S. Craig Zahler)
Ant-Man and the Wasp 3D. (Peyton Reed)
Frères Ennemis. (Close Ennemies) (Daniel Oelhoffen)
Gutland. (Govinda Van Maele)
De chaque instant. (Nicolas Philibert)
When the Day Had No Name. (Teona Strugar Mitevska)
A mon âge je me cache encore pour fumer. (I Still Hide to Smoke) (Rayhana Obermeyer)
The Day After. (Hong Sang-Soo)
Los Silencios. (Beatriz Seigner)
Before We Vanish. (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Burning. (Lee Chang-dong)
Unsane. (Steven Soderbergh)
Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. (Ben Wheatley)
As Boas Maneiras (Good Manners) (Marco Dutra, Juliana Rojas)
I, Tonya. (Craig Gillespie)
Revenge. (Carolie Fargeat)
The Endless. (Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead)
Mon Ket. (Dany) (François Damiens)
Le Jeu. (Nothing to Hide) (Fred Cavayé)
In den Gängen. (In the Aisles) (Thomas Stuber)
Insyriated. (Philippe Van Leeuw)
Fahrenheit 11/9 (Michael Moore)
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. (Gus Van Sant)
Wonder Wheel (Woody Allen)
Lady Bird. (Greta Gerwig)
Pour Vivre Heureux. (For a Happy Life) (Salima Glamine & Dimitri Linder)
Nico, 1988. (Susanna Nicchiarelli)
Apostle. (Gareth Evans)
Lean on Pete. (Andrew Haigh)
Hold the Dark. (Jeremy Saulnier)
Hymz. (Insect) (Jan Svankmajer)
Avengers: Infinity War 3D. (Anthony & Joe Russo)
Molly’s Game. (Aaron Sorkin)
Bad Times at the El Royale. (Drew Goddard)
Patser (Gangsta) (Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah)
Todod lo saben. (Everybody Knows) (Asghar Farhadi)
Les Confins du Monde (To the Ends of the World) (Guillaume Nicloux)
The Insult. (Ziad Doueiri)
En guerre. (At War) (Stéphane Brizé)
Loro. (Paolo Sorrentino)
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote)
The Post. (Steven Spielberg)
Pupille. (In Safe Hands) (Jeanne Herry)
Amin. (Philippe Faucon)
A Simple Favor. (Paul Feig)
Kin. (Jonathan & Josh Baker)
Overlord. (Julius Avery)
The Commuter. (Jaume Collet-Serra)
Downsizing. (Alexander Payne)
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. (Andy Serkis)
BlacKkKlansman. (Spike Lee)
Disobedience. (Sebastián Leilo)
Le Monde est à Toi. (The World is Yours) (Romain Gavras)
Dogman. (Matteo Garrone)
Le Grand Bain. (Sink or Swim) (Gilles Lellouche)
They Shall Not Grow Old. (Peter Jackson)
Benzinho. (Loveling) (Gustavo Pizzi)
Amanda. (Mikhaël Hers)
Un Amour Impossible. (An Impossible Love) (Catherine Corsini)
L’amour Flou. (Romane Bohringer & Philippe Rebbot)
The Reports on Sarah and Saleem. (Muayad Alayan)
Un Ange. (Angel) (Koen Mortier)
Leave No Trace. (Debra Granik)
Ramen Shop (Eric Khoo)
Early Man. (Nick Park)
Utøya 22. juli. (Erik Poppe)
Den Skyldige. (The Guilty) (Gustav Möller)
The Night Comes for Us. (Timo Tjahjanto)
Mission : Impossible – Fallout 3D. (Christopher McQuarrie)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman)
Deadpool 2. (David Leitch)
Black Panther 3D. (Ryan Coogler)
Bumblebee 3D. (Travis Knight)
En Liberté. (The Trouble With You) (Pierre Salvadori)
Widows. (Steve McQueen)
Mortal Engines 3D. (Christian Rivers)
Suspiria. (Luca Guadagnino)
The Wife. (Björn Runge)
Kursk. (Thomas Vinterberg)
Niet Schieten. (Stijn Coninx)
Mademoiselle de Jonquières. (Emmanuel Mouret)
24 Frames. (Abbas Kiarostami)
Katie Says Goodbye. (Wayne Roberts)
Manifesto. (Julian Rosefeldt)
The Happy Prince. (Rupert Everett)
Halloween. (David Gordon Green)
Venom 3D. (Ruben Fleischer)
Ready Player One 3D. (Steven Spielberg)
- The Lost City of Z.
- A Cure for Wellness.
- La Región Salvaje. (The Untamed)
- Mon Ange. (Angel)
- Lerd. (A Man of Integrity)
- Manchester by the Sea.
- The Eyes of My Mother.
- Krotkaya. (A Gentle Creature)
- Le Fidèle. (Racer and the Jailbird)
(Michaël R. Roskam)
- Happy End.
Would not have been misplaced in my top 10 either:Good Time.
(Benny & Josh Safdie)
Lumière!, l’aventure commence.
Un Beau Soleil Intérieur. (Let the Sun Shine In)
You Were Never Really Here.
On Body and Soul.
Laissez Bronzer les Cadavres. (Let the Corpses Tan)
(Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani)
The Greasy Strangler.
Swiss Army Man.
(Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert)
The Love Witch.
Stranger in Paradise.
Everybody Wants Some!!!
The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
David Lynch: The Art Life.
(Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes & Olivia Neergaard-Holm)
Marquis de Wavrin, du manoir à la Jungle. (Marquis de Wavrin, From the Manor to the Jungle)
(Grace Winter & Luc Plantier)
Visages Villages. (Faces Places)
(JR & Agnès Varda)
(Jérôme Le Maire)
Kingsman: The Golden Circle.
Not bad either:Magallanes. (Salvador del Solar)
Cartas da Guerra. (Letters from War) (Ivo Ferreira)
Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh)
Message from the King. (Fabrice du Welz)
Even Lovers Get the Blues. (Laurent Micheli)
Powidoki. (Afterimage) (Andrzej Wajda)
El Color del Camaleón. (Anders Lubbert)
Home. (Fien Troch)
Sobytie. (The Event) (Sergei Loznitsa)
120 Battements par minute. (BPM) (Robin Campillo)
Estiu 1993. (Summer of 1993) (Carla Simón)
Thelma. (Joachim Trier)
Dog Eat Dog. (Paul Schrader)
Prevenge. (Alice Lowe)
Moonlight. (Barry Jenkins)
Get Out. (Jordan Peele)
John Wick: Chapter 2. (Chad Stahelski)
I’m Not Your Negro +Le jeune Karl Marx (The Young Karl Marx) (Raoul Peck)
Au-revoir là-haut. (See You Up There) (Albert Dupontel)
Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)
Coco. (Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina)
War Machine. (David Michôd)
La La Land. (Damien Chazelle)
Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki. (Juho Kousmanen)
War for the Planet of the Apes. (3D) (Matt Reeves)
L’ amant Double. (François Ozon)
My First Highway. (Kevin Meul)
78/52. (Alexandre O. Philippe)
Tarde para la ira. (The Fury of a Patient Man) (Raúl Arévalo)
The Nile Hilton Incident. (Tarik Saleh)
Mobile Homes. (Vladimir de Fontenay)
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. (Macon Blair)
L’échange des princesses. (Marc Dugain)
Como Nossos Pais. (Just Like Our Parents) (Laís Bodanzky)
Lady Macbeth. (William Oldroyd)
The Party. (Sally Potter)
Noces. (Stephan Streker)
Jalouse. (David & Stéphane Foenkinos)
All the Money in the World. (Ridley Scott)
Neil Stryker and the Tyrant of Time. (Rob Taylor)
The Founder. (John Lee Hancock)
Food Coop. (Thomas Boothe & Maellanne Bonnicel)
Que Dios nos perdone. (May God Save Us) (Rodrigo Sorogoyen)
The Other Side of Hope. (Aki Kaurismäki)
Beyond the Mountains and the Hills. (Eran Kolirin)
Petit Paysan. (Boody Milk) (Hubert Charuel)
Paris Pieds Nus. (Lost in Paris) (Dominique Abel & Fiona Gordon)
El Bar. (The Bar) (Álex de la Iglesia)
Corporate. (Nicolas Silhol)
Paddington 2. (Paul King)
Thor: Ragnarok (3D) (Taika Waititi)
Spielberg. (Susan Lacy)
The Beguiled. (Sofia Coppola)
Blade Runner 2049 (3D) (Denis Villeneuve)
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. (3D) (Rian Johnson)
Free Fire. (Ben Wheatley)
Baby Driver. (Edgar Wright)
Wind River. (Taylor Sheridan)
Logan. (James Mangold)
Wonder Woman. (3D) (Patty Jenkins)
Una Mujer Fantástica. (A Fantastic Woman) (Sebastián Lelio)
Tueurs. (Jean-François Hensgens & François Troukens)
Why Him? (John Hamburg)
Je suis resté dans les bois. (Michaël Bier, Erika Sainte & Vincent Solheid)
Loving Vincent. (Dorota Kobiela)
Le Redoutable. (Michel Hazanavicius)
Die göttliche Ordnung. (Petra Volpe)
D’après une histoire vraie. (Based on a True Story) (Roman Polanski)
Split. (M. Night Shyamalan)
Wonderstruck. (Todd Haynes)
The Woman Who Left. (Lav Diaz)
Battle of the Sexes. (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)
Borg McEnroe. (Janus Metz)
The Wall + American Made. (Doug Liman)
Fai Bei Sogni + Sangue del mio Sangue. (Sweet Dreams + Blood of My Blood) (Marco Bellocchio)
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). (Noah Baumbach)
L’atelier. (The Workshop) (Laurent Cantet)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (3D) (Jon Watts)
El ciudadano ilustre. (The Distinguished Citizen) (Gastón Duprat & Mariano Cohn)
The Autopsy of Jane Doe. (André Øvredal)
Seven Sisters. (Tommy Wirkola)
Les Gardiennes. (The Guardians) (Xavier Beauvois)
Okja. (Bong Joon-ho)
Laavor et hakir. (The Wedding Plan) (Rama Burshtein)
Mother! (Darren Aronofsky)
Hidden Figures. (Theodore Melfi)
Tschick (Goodbye Berlin) (Fatih Akin)
Bushwick (Cary Murnion & Jonathan Milott)
Alive in France (Abel Ferrara)
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. (Ang Lee)
Alien: Covenant. (3D) (Ridley Scott)
Le Sens de la Fête. (C’est la vie!) (Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano)
La Promesse de l’aube. (Promise at Dawn) (Eric Barbier)
It Comes at Night. (Trey Edward Shults)
Suburbicon (George Clooney)
It: Chapter One. (Andy Muschietti)
Het Tweede Gelaat. (Control) (Jan Verheyen)
T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)
The Big Sick (Michael Showalter)
Silence. (Martin Scorsese)
Detroit. (Kathryn Bigelow)
The Snowman. (Tomas Alfredson)
Song to Song. (Terrence Malick)
Guy Pearce who starred in the Australian western The Proposition seems ever so eager to revisit the genre with his depiction of the Reverend that looks like a devilish, self flagellating evil twin of Abraham Lincoln who keeps re-interpreting the Bible to condone his unforgivable and gravest of sins. “Beware of false prophets, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing”.
The fact that Martin Koolhoven is a cinephile (strangely enough reviewers oftentimes seem to consider this as a negative) didn’t at all prevent him from leaving his own personal, original imprint on the genre. Despite the fact that the film was shot on location in Germany, Spain, Hungary and Spain, Brimstone has an original feel that has no problem in passing for an otherwise nondescript American West.
He certainly did not make a film that aims to please everybody and there’s plenty of stuff in this film to be shocked or offended by for those that wish to be so. The depiction of the religiously inspired suppression and physical violation of women -you’ll have to see the chastity belt-like headlock-set that locks up women’s faces to believe it- may well prove to be too much for some. It is nevertheless refreshing and not without merit -specifically in the present day- to show this kind of depiction in a non-islamic setting.
Narsiesse has a Canadian First Nations background which is being referred to from the get-go via the ‘moving image’ of a running buffalo accompanying the title The Winemaker as well as with a relic/necklace I’m assuming is containing a buffalo tooth and via further artifacts later on.
At some stage a female character is heard via a voice-over stating: “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. Open locks, whoever knocks!” Yes we have arrived in Macbeth and hence William Shakespeare country. The boy is played by Narsiesse’s real life son called Laertes, yes the man has a passion for Shakespeare. Narsiesse himself plays Vic, perhaps a reference to The Old Vic in London famous for staging a lot of Shakespeare’s plays?
Some of the symbols and references to Japanese culture that were clearly in there I was less familiar with, perhaps they will be further explained in the future miniseries and or feature version.
Although the film was shot on an I-Phone the result looks great and contains some impressively executed transitions. A shot of the moon reflected in a puddle of water transitions from the circular moon into the circle of the iris of an eye and further into a drop of water dripping from a winemaking machine. It made me think somewhat of the famous series of transitions in Citizen Kane in which every transition focussing on the lit window and in which each transition moves the viewer closer to the bedroom window of the Xanadu palace in which Charles Foster Kane is to utter his puzzling last words: Rosebud. Perhaps the main reason it reminded me of the Citizen Kane opening series of transitions is that it also contains one of a reflection in the water.
If you are expecting a straightforward short film you may be dissapointed as the short seems to be conceived more as a teaser for things to come then it is a stand alone short film. I see Narsiesse’s project as if it were a ‘Matroesjka in reverse’. A Matroesjka is perhaps more commonly known as a Russian Doll. You have a big doll containing a smaller doll which in turn contains an even smaller doll and so on. Here instead we start off with the smallest doll, the short film that needs to excite the audience to want to see the next doll(s), the 4-part mini web series and culminating in the biggest doll, the feature, each adding new layers and meaning. It’s working for me so far.
Ben Wheatley is one of the (not just) British directors to keep an eye on. Up to High-Rise (2015) he had completed 4 feature films on micro to low budgets and on each occasion had performed miracles with the limited means at his disposal.
His debut Down Terrace (2009) was a kitchen sink gangsterdrama that was literally made in and around the childhood home of co-writer and star Robin Hill in 8 days. His 2nd film Kill List (2011) starts of as a thriller about some hit men and somewhere midway shifts into an occult horror film, as if Nicolas Roeg’s Performance (1970) fell under the spell of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973).
Next up was Sightseers (2012), a sort of comical horror version of Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May (1976) written by the co-leads Alice Lowe and Steve Oram which was selected for the ‘Quizaine des Réalisateurs’ in Cannes. They play a couple that go on a caravan road trip leaving a bloody trail along their way. Not unlike High-Rise class differences are at the center of the film. Wheatley has since executive-produced Oram’s feature debut Aaaaaaaah! (2015) -via his production company Rook Films- a film with an even more primitive dissection of what happens when that thin coat of varnish called civilisation is scratched away.
A year later Wheatley made A Field in England (2013), shot on a micro budget in only 12 days. Set in the 17th century during the English Civil War, 3 deserters meet each other and some hallucinogenic mushrooms in (well yes) a field in England. As if Peter Watkin’s
Culloden (1964) and Ken Russel’s Altered States (1980) were put in a blender and the result felt like one of the best cinematic cocktails you ever have the pleasure to put down the hatch.
This film gave Wheatley some cloud to attempt a (financially) more ambitious film project, an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s (author of Crash, Empire of the Sun which were brought to the big screen by respectively David Cronenberg and Steven Spielberg) 1975 dystopian novel High-Rise.
Dr. Robert Laing (played by rising star Tom Hiddleston in perhaps his best performance to date) has recently moved into a new luxury apartment which is part of 5 High-Rises of which only the first one has has been completed, the remaining four are still under construction. The architect Royal (Jeremy Irons) has come up with a rather unique concept. The five tower blocks are shaped like the five fingers of an open hand, the lake is to become its palm. The upperclass occupy the top floors of the buildings, the lower income families live in the lower ones. Your wealth determines your level (or floor). The occupants have access to a swimming pool, a gym, a supermarket and even a primary school. Besides going to work there is little reason for the residents to leave the building, gradually they become trapped like the bourgeoisie in a Buñuel film.
Initially the occupants are soothed by the fact that “the building is still settling” but when the infractures many failures become more apparent the tensions between the upper and lower floors start to erupt. The opening scenes -a short of flash forward of things to come- of the film however immediately clearly show that the architect’s social experiment is doomed to fail. The film is set in the index finger of the so-called open hand, the writer obviously wanted to point out a few things about (British) society. It woud have been less subtle to have the action take place in the middle finger although towards the end director Ben Wheatley inevitably presents one to Margaret Tatcher.
Besides Hiddleston and Irons you will recognise Sienna Miller as a single mother of a bastard son of one of the upper class men, who has a fling with Dr. Laing, Luke Evans as Richard Wilder, a frustrated lower class man whose married with Helen (played by Elisabeth Moss mostly known for her role as Peggy Olson in the popular HBO series Mad Men) who is about to give birth to yet another addition to their family and Stacy Martin (Lars von Triers’ Nymphomaniac) as a cashier in the supermarket.
All the dialogue in the film in one way or another is indicative of the class difference (“You’ve built all this?” “Dreamt, conceived, I hardly pulled up my sleeves”) and is often hilariously funny in a subtle -or often less subtle- very British sort of way (“You can’t put him over the edge, he still owes me a game of squash”).
Notable is the use of the famous ABBA song S.O.S. featuring during a fancy dress party (evoking Greenaway’s The Draughtman’s Contract & Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon?) being held in the penthouse -composer Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream) had it arranged for strings for the occasion- and later on in a brilliant cover version by Portishead.
Among the films many highlights there’s sequence of a man jumping of the building to his death landing on the bonnet (or hood if you perfer) of a car, a scene that would make Richard Donner -who specialises in these type of ‘drop shots’- jealous.
Visually the film peaks with a brilliantly stunning shot that shares us a point of view as seen through a kaleidoscope. I’ve prepared the below montage of potential reference points culminating in the said kaleidoscope shot.
The clip starts of with some shots from Martin Scorsese’s Kundun (1998) in which a young Dalai Lama is peaking through a big looking glass to his subordinates below. When Scorsese cuts to the POV the sequence has some typical Scorsese/Thelma Schoonmaker dissolving along the axis type of editing. There’s a similar shot from Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (1993) where a character played by Richard E. Grant is looking through some theater binoculars down at the conductor of an orchestra over to a charater arriving in an opposite opera box. Here also Scorsese tries to visually convey the speed of the eye movement by skipping frames combined by dissolves along the axis.
There’s not really a direct connection with Wheatley’s kaleidoscope shot. So why include them any way? Well Scorsese was so impressed by A Field in England that he offered to produce Wheatley’s next film, and so he did. As High-Rise was already under way this would become the upcoming Free Fire.
Thematically you could say there is a bond between Kundun, The Age of Innocence and High-Rise as they are Scorsese’s most class conscious films. Kundun is a film about a society that at a certain stage gives its absolute power in the hands of a child and The Age of Innocence portays New York’s high society in the late 19th century and its strict social rules and customs which ruin the love affair between the two main characters. Scorsese even called this his most (emotionally) violent film.
The next 2 clips do have a direct link with High-Rise in my opinion. There’s a clip from Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) featuring the “they’re all gonna laugh at you” kaleidoscope shot from that film’s celebrated prom sequence. And finally a shot from John Boorman’s Zardoz ( 1973) showing a fractured mirror shot including Sean Connery. Wheatley has expressed his admiration for Boorman’s Zardoz on many occasions including the 16 minute plus appreciation to be found on Arrow Film’s UK Blu Ray release + in his video clip for the band Editors ‘Formaldehyde’ which has references to both Sergio Corbucci’s Django (1966) as well as Zardoz. Even the picture on Wheatley’s Twitter profile (@) features the giant stone head from this film.
The kaleidoscope shot is perhaps also linked with one of the many hilarious lines from the film. At a certain stage when the servants are no longer preparing the meals for their masters one of the rich men is wondering who cooked the food they’re eating to which one of the characters replies it’s now op to their wifes: “the women are rotating”. There’s a chance the montage I’ve prepared can’t be played in the UK (as per a message I’ve received from Youtube) so just in case I’ve uploaded it via WordPressvideo as well.
I was lucky enough to see the film in march of this year at the Offscreen film festival in Brussels in attendance of Ben Wheatley where it had the honour of closing the festival and I’ve since see it again when it was released in Belgium in June. The film even played better the second time round. When you watch the film for the first time there’s a chance you may need some time to adjust to the films chaotic opening, it’s definitely a busy film but Wheatley and Jump have certainly found the right tone for putting J.G Ballard’s novel to the screen. It’s nice to see that despite the bigger budget he did not have his vision muddled with. Can’t wait to see Free Fire.
At the end of the title sequence just when the name of director Paul Verhoeven appears on screen we hear some objects smashing on the floor while a violent struggle is taking place. As these sounds continue the frame turns black and remains that way for a short period of time. The actual first image of the film is that of a cat who’s a bemused onlooker while the lady of the house Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) is being raped.
How this mature woman will cope with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted is basic-ally the main subject of this film. Its originality lays in the fact that the brutal rape seem-ingly hasn’t effected her too much. She certainly manifests a rather cavelier way of dea-ling with this event which one would expect to be rather traumatising. She doesn’t call the police but on the contrary cleans up the rape crime scene and takes a bath to clean herself while having a glass of red wine. When her son comes home and notices a bruise on her face she quickly comes up with the simple excuse that she fell off her bike.
It’s obvious that Verhoeven is not interested in depicting a typical main character from a straightforward rape victim/revenge film, ranging from Nuts (1987) (you know, that film in which Barbara Streisand is being raped by Leslie Nielsen a.k.a. inspector Drebin from Naked Gun) and The Accused (1988) on the one hand to Abel Ferrara’s MS. 45 (1981) and The Brave One (2007) on the other, to name but a few. Instead Michèle Leblanc is yet another strong female character in a long line of strong women in his films, manipulation is often their game and sex one of the tools for survival, we’ll find out in due course what she’s up to.
Many great films have centered around or featured infamous rape scenes, such as Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984), De Palma’s Casulaties of War (1989), Gaspard Noé’s Irreversible (2002) and most of the body of work of Verhoeven for that matter, but none where you as an audience member left the movie theater thinking: now that was fun! I’m obviously not referring to the rape scenes.
If you are familiar with Paul Verhoeven’s oeuvre you’ll notice many similarities or nods to his previous work and you’ll discover that this time round he’s leaning towards a more subtle/restraint approach, at least for a Verhoeven film that is. A few examples: Just compare the ‘castration’ scissors scene from De Vierde Man (The Fourth Man, 1983)with the ‘stigmata’ scissors scene in Elle. Or ‘study’ the amount of ‘bodily fluids’ on display on the bed sheets in Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992) in the “He got off before he got offed” scene versus the perpetrator ‘leaving a message’ in this film.
The way the documentary TV footage is used revealing ‘her troubled past’ -which upto that point was only hinted at during conversations with her mother and sudden violent reactions from people who seem to recognise her for some reason- reminded me somewhat of the projected home movies of several fatal outings in The Fourth Man. Both sequences leave room to suggest the female lead characters may have been a in one way or another a participant in the horrific events that took place. Not unlike Catherine Tramell or Hazel Dobkins (played by Dorothy Malone) in Basic Instinct, a character which Sharon Stone, in the part that made her famous, keeps in touch with as a sort of ‘murderess technical advisor’ for her crime novels.
What remained is an ongoing fascination with the historical figure of Jesus. He’s become a fervent participant and respected member of the Jesus Seminar and also wrote a book on the subject called Jesus of Nazareth. He has been trying to make a movie about the life of Christ for ages, but considering his basic premise is that Jesus was not the result of an immaculate conception (as is the popular ‘belief’) but instead that of (Holy) Mary being raped by a Roman soldier, you can understand why he’s been having difficulty getting this project greenlit anywhere, let alone in Hollywood. This however would be a Biblical film I might actually be looking forward to seeing. Furthermore, in Elle there’s a strong suggestion that Michèle’s son is not the biological father of his girlsfriend’s child, making him kind of a Joseph-like figure.
Check out the below homage Erik Van Looy paid to the ‘Michael Kovacs murder scene’ from Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980) in his film The Memory of a Killer (original title De Zaak Alzheimer, alternate international title The Alzheimer Case, 2003). Van Looy referred to it during his audio commentary (dutch audio only) which is available on the Benelux DVD edition from Bridge Entertainment.
Cimino’s scene is also an interesting example of a star entrance for the character Nathan D. Champion played by Christopher Walken.
In addition Van Looy also worked with Cimino’s fetish actor Mickey Rourke in his film Shades (1999). His brief appearance in Heaven’s Gate marked Rourke’s first collaboration with Cimino, he would later play the lead in the excellent Year of the Dragon (1985) and Desperate Hours (1990), his poor remake of William Wyler’s The Desperate Hours (1955) starring Humphrey Bogart.