As the director of Elle, you could easily accuse Paul Verhoeven of taking a perverse pleasure in watching Isabelle Huppert suffer through not one but several rape scenes. After the same masked rapist beats her head against a wall for the umpteenth time, you begin to imagine that Verhoeven thinks he’s remaking his 1987 Robocop as a French domestic melodrama. The script requires Huppert to be invulnerable, emotionally as well as physically. For the sins of her murderer father, she renounces common sense in order to accept a series of punishments — willingly, the way a saint does. But Huppert has worked through tonally similar, infinitely better material before, in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher. Verhoeven (who also directed Showgirls) wants to emulate that film’s arthouse intelligence and allure, but cannot resist adding his own oleaginous sheen to the frames. He invents a parallel story inside a violent video game in which the female character is anally raped by a serpent-limbed creature stolen from one of Guillermo del Toro’s rejected sketchbooks. Like a masturbating voyeur, the lens hangs on this animated horror for far too long. By the end of the film, the camera has come to feel much like a male intruder: unwelcome, unwanted, and better now that the screen has faded to black.
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