Movie review: Elle

Movie reviews

Hello!

The awards season is usually dominated by American and British films, while the non-English language pictures tend to be relegated to the Best Foreign Film Category. However, sometimes a movie escapes this section and gets wider recognition. The French language films (or pictures made by the French) are the ones that succeed at this the most often (The Artist, Amour) and 2016’s Elle is hoping to one of them.

IMDb summary: A successful businesswoman gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse as she tracks down the unknown man who raped her.

Writing and Acting: The main character and the lead actress

Elle is getting the most recognition for the performance of the lead actress – Isabelle Huppert. The film’s story revolves solely around her as the titular character. At first glance, the movie appears to be just another rape victim story that so often gets reduced to just being the awards bait for great actresses (like Downton Abbey’s rape plotline for Joanne Froggatt’s character). However, the character of Elle is so much more than a rape victim: she is complex and multifaceted and so much more than just the victim of her incident. The great Isabelle Huppert meticulously maneuvers this labyrinth of character traits and delivers a mesmerizing performance. And even though I would love for the Academy, the various guilds, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to recognize actresses that play more contemporary strong female characters, I cannot be that mad at them for rewarding Huppert, as she both conforms to the needs of this traditional role and also confronts them.

Now, let’s go over the writing for the main character in more detail. The script was penned by David Birke, based on the novel ‘Oh…’ by Philippe Djian. While I did not necessarily agree with all of their ideas, the film’s writing certainly raised questions.

  1. The fact that the female character is reluctant to speak out and treats the whole situation almost nonchalantly does not set the best example. The romanticization of the rape (Stockholme Syndrome) could also be seen as a problematic or at least a controversial choice.
  2. And yet, I applaud the film for being open about women’s sexual lives. This topic is becoming less and less of a taboo, especially, when films like Fifty Shades of Grey are being made, are seen by many, and then are discussed online (even if not in the most productive way).
  3. While the role of a rape victim might appear as a very traditional female role, the film’s complex commentary on rape and consent is really contemporary and extremely relevant.
  4. The background writing for the main character is super unique too because the female lead is portrayed as working in the field of video games. I don’t think I can name another film with a female character working in such a stereotypically male field.
  5. The personal background of the main character is super rich too. All the different relationships are super complex and interesting separately but the interconnectivity of them is the thing that makes them realistic and even more interesting. The father-daughter relationship affects mother-daughter relationship, while the friendship between the two co-workers suffers because of the cheating.
  6. The fact that the main female character is open to the idea of having multiple lovers and at least a dozen of admirers (employees) was not only a fresh development in the portrayal of female characters but also makes it more believable that this silence and nonchalance would be the way for her to deal with the incident (even if I don’t personally agree with her decisions).
  7. The fact that her father was a murderer and that she might also have violent tendencies adds another interesting layer to the character. Her jealousy and selfishness that would sometimes result in despicable and frankly creepy actions made it hard to see her as a victim but I also think that this might have been a conscious choice. This might show that bad things happen to bad people too or that the victimization or the sainthood of the victims are fickle facades that might not actually be true.

Directing

A well known Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, best known to the mainstream audiences as the man behind such films, like Total Recall and Showgirls, directed Elle and did a magnificent job. He unfolds this story brilliantly: the viewer is dropped into the film’s world straight up, without any set-up. The rape is showed in the first sequence and later on revisited and showed from different perspective and angles to not only enhance its effect but also to show the different outcomes of it. The whole ‘cat and mouse’ game is also realized neatly: it is slow but suspenseful and intense. The film is truly a psychological thriller with some elements of a great scary movie. It reminds me of Gone Girl, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and Panic Room. And yet, it differs from these American films in its atmosphere: European films always seem realistically glamorous instead of being cinematically glamorous. The level of sophistication is also much higher.

Supporting Cast

The film has an extensive supporting cast full of European talent. The secondary roles are filled by Christian BerkelAnne ConsignyVirginie EfiraLaurent LafitteCharles Berling, Alice IsaazJudith Magre, Jonas Bloquet, Vimala Pons and Lucas Prisor and all of them do a fabulous job.

To conclude, Elle is either empowering or subversive and either traditional or contemporary (or both in both cases) film with a complex female lead who is brought to life by the astonishing Isabelle Huppert whose performance is subtle and restrained but still extremely powerful.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Elle trailer

MV5BMTU4MTUyMzI5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDQwODY2NzE@._V1_SX640_SY720_.jpg

Advertisements

Movie review: Room

Movie reviews

Hello!

As the Academy Awards (with all the controversies and changes) are only a month away, let’s review – Room – another movie dealing with quite a heavy and depressing subject matter.

I watched this film in the small art cinema (like Carol) with a bunch of elders and retired people (it was daytime). It was definitely a different experience, seeing the film on a smaller screen in a tiny room than watching it in a big hall with a huge screen. Independent cinemas are cozier and don’t have many distractions, thus, the viewers can get sucked into a movie much more. In the case of Room, the topic of the picture was so uncomfortable (at least the first half) that I, personally, wanted to step back, but couldn’t, so the themes and ideas of the movie were unavoidable.  Also, the cozy atmosphere of the movie theater and the shocking subject matter of the film created a huge and jarring contrast.

Lastly, this whole tiny passage of the review got me thinking, which kind of cinema do I prefer? The big commercial one or the tiny artistic one? In the end, it probably depends on a film that I am watching…

!SPOILERS!

IMDb summary: After five-year-old Jack and his mother escape from the enclosed surroundings that Jack has known his entire life, the boy makes a thrilling discovery.

Writing and Story

Room’s screenplay was written by Emma Donoghue. It was her second script ever and also an adaptation of her highly successful book of the same name. As I have mentioned before, the first half of the film dealt with very uncomfortable and tragic subject – kidnapping and raping of Brie Larson’s character for 7 years. As I haven’t seen the trailer or read any reviews before going to see the film, I was very surprised that they managed to escape from the room on the 2nd attempt and were out in the world by the middle of the film and the end of the first act. But then again, this film was not about the room but about the people in the room. It was a story of these two individuals getting to know the world anew or for the very first time, while simultaneously being about the world and society, trying to deal with having two new and very damaged members. In short, the film was about adjusting rather than escaping.

I was sitting on the edge of my seat throughout the escape sequence. The policewoman who managed to get the location out of Jack was very smart and efficient, and I was quite happy to see police force represented in quite a good way. However, I also didn’t understand, how they did not find them sooner? Also, I found it quite weird that the kidnapper gave up and just ran away after a single unsuccessful attempt to drag Jack back to the car. Lastly, I wish that they would have answered the question if the kidnapper was ever caught? The news report on the TV implied that the suspect was arrested, but that line of the plot was never followed up. Another thread of the story that seemed to be forgotten for no reason was Joy’s real dad’s resentment of Jack, because his father was the kidnapper. I would have liked to know if the dad ever came to his right senses and embraced his grandson. The moment of the film that I disliked the most was that reporter, questioning Joy’s parenting skills. That kind of journalism is the reason why I decided not to become a journalist myself.

The film’s story revolved around the mother (Joy) and her son (Jack) and the main focus of the narrative would jump from one character to the other. We started with Joy, then moved onto Jack and repeated this pattern a few times, while centering on Jack at the end of the film, because he was/is the future of that family. I also liked that they presented the idea of plasticity: Jack, still being a little kid and open to the world, assimilated into the society quicker and easier than Joy, who was too stubborn and, I felt, acted too over dramatic at times. I know that she had a lot of anger bottled up inside her, but inflicting that pain on others or hurting herself were not the best ways to deal with the situation.

The film was narrated by Jack, so the viewers were able to see this story through innocent eyes of the child, who only sees good in a world. It was a different perspective than the one that an adult would have to these horrible events, but I think that it made the film more unique and fresh. It also added tons of hope to the film and, when the credits appeared on screen, I at least felt that Joy and Jack will be okay and that they left the past behind.

I loved how the begging and the ending of the film correlated. We started with ‘Good Morning’ and ended with ‘Bye’. The film gave the viewers closure and calmed then down. The movie assured us that, although these tragic events have happened, Joy and Jack will live on and that we, as people, should also live on, despite the horrible events and tragedies that occur in the world. Hope is the only thing that keeps humanity from completely destroying itself, so we, as people, should embrace it.

Directing and Visuals 

Room was directed by Lenny Abrahamson. It was only his 5th picture. He also directed 2014’s Frank which is on my list of films to watch. I believe that Abrahamson did an amazing job. First of all, he worked with a child actor for the majority of the film’s scenes and somehow managed to direct him wonderfully. Of course, that might also be to the actor’s Jacob Tremblay’s credit. In addition, I liked how Abrahamson somehow managed to make the actual room feel bigger than it was and not claustrophobic at all. With his camera work and the visuals, he conveyed this idea that this tiny space that these two people shares was enough for them, that they were as happy as they could be while being held,prisoners. I also liked how the movie threw the viewers into the action and into the room right away with the blurry opening, full of close-ups. The whole handheld cinematography reminded me a bit of Andrea Arnold’s Fisk Tank. Although, it definitely was less shaky and much smoother.

Acting

The film main characters were played by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. I would not be able to tell you who of the two of them was the true lead of the film, because they were both equally important. Brie Larson is the front-runner at the Academy Awards for the Best Leading Actress award and she definitely deserves the win. Not only did she and the child actor Jacob worked together well, but her facial expressions were magnificent and heartbreaking. I have seen a few films starring Larson, but she has never really stuck out to me. I hope that she will do more dramatic films, because she shines in this type of a role. Tremblay was also perfect in the role of a young Jack. Child actors usually are the part of the film that annoys me the most, but he was the complete opposite. He definitely has a long career ahead of him.

The supporting cast of the movie had a few well know and accomplished actors in it: Joan Allen and William H. Macy were playing Joy’s parents, while Tom McCamus played Joy’s mum’s boyfriend, who was a much better granddad to Jack. Amanda Brugel played the smart police officer that I have already mentioned, while Cas Anvar played the doctor that helped Joy and Jack settle back in. Wendy Crewson starred as the reporter/talk show hostess that I disliked. Lastly, Deadwood’s Sean Bridgers played the kidnapper, who we never really got a chance to get to know. We never really found out, why he was doing what he was doing. In 2015, Bridgers also starred in Trumbo – another awards’ nominee, which I am planning to see next week.

In short, Room was a really great film, which told an uncomfortable, interesting, heartbreaking but hopeful story. The directing was also really nice, although it was overshadowed by the magnificent performances of the two leads. Room is a definite must watch to movie fans all over the world.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Room trailer

room-2015