Elle has perhaps been the surprise film of this awards season. While critical darlings, like La La Land and Manchester By The Sea, have expectantly been picking up awards left and right, an oddly-toned – to put it lightly – French rape-revenge film has had its star, Isabelle Huppert, picking up major acting awards, including a Golden Globe. However, it almost never happened at all.
Huppert revealed to the BBC that the film was originally intended as a Hollywood production and she was unlikely to star. Director, Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall, Showgirls), revealed:
“I was asked to make this as an American movie. I went to a US scriptwriter, but nobody in the USA was interested in this project financially or artistically”.
“So it had to go back to Paris. I can only think that they said ‘no’ to the whole idea because it wasn’t a straightforward revenge film, where in the second act you find out who the rapist is, and the third act is about the woman’s revenge. The identification of the main character with the rapist is so against the grain of what we expect”.
Verhoeven’s right, the film examines such a horrible subject matter in a somewhat perverse, tonally strange light. But it only makes its examination of gender politics, female empowerment and revenge even more relevant in the long run. It’s no surprise Hollywood originally wanted nothing to do with the film.
Huppert’s success is therefore a pleasant surprise, and perhaps a step in the right direction for American cinema rewarding challenging films. She said about the role:
“She’s a new type of woman. She is a post-feminist character, building her own behaviour. She isn’t a victim, but then she doesn’t take revenge. She’s not some James Bond girl, taking control with a gun. She’s the result of a man’s failure, and all the male figures in this film are failed, mediocre and weak”.
“So she represents a new era. She’s a solitary figure, independent and not financially dependent upon anyone. So yes, it was fantastic to bring this woman to life on the screen”.
Huppert has been a incredibly consistent actress for years, able to morph into completely different roles at will. In fact in the last year alone, alongside Elle, she’s appeared in Mia Hanson-Love‘s Things To Come, was the best part of Joachim Trier‘s lackluster Louder Than Bombs and starred alongside another French icon, Gérard Depardieu, in Valley Of Love. Disparate roles she pulled off seemingly with ease.
Verhoeven adds that he’s happy Elle originally ‘failed’ to be made as a US production: “I didn’t realise the Hollywood Foreign Press were so open-minded as to accept it in all its strangeness. In the movie we originally felt we had to go the American way. We were lucky it failed and it could go to Isabelle, because I don’t think any other person in the world could have played this part”.
Huppert is probably unlikely to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, but simply being nominated for such a challenging film – and challenging role – might have opened up Academy voters to accepting and appreciating tougher cinema in the future. Huppert concludes:
“Challenging movie parts are the scariest but most rewarding. It just depends on who you work with, and trust and confidence in your director are key. Truth has never scared me in a movie. In life, it’s a different matter”.