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It takes having a skewed view of sexuality to fully embrace "Elle," a psychological drama whose characters are as twisted as the plot.
It starts with a brutal rape, committed on Michele (Isabelle Huppert), a hard-driving CEO of a French video-game company, in her home. It gets weirder when she's at work, overseeing designs on a new game overloaded with sexual assault imagery, and she gets creepy texts from her rapist. A cat-and-mouse game ensues, with Michele trying to track down the rapist while also starting an affair with her married neighbor, Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) who's not all he seems to be.
Director Paul Verhoeven has trafficked for years in confrontational sexual gamesmanship (e.g. "Basic Instinct" or "Showgirls"), but he's never had an onscreen muse like Huppert, who turns Michele from victim to valkyrie, reclaiming what was taken from her on her own terms. It's challenging material, with elements of dark comedy and misogyny, that's intriguing even when David Birke's screenplay goes off the rails in the end.
Opening Friday, Jan. 13, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas; rated R for violence involving sexual assault, disturbing sexual content, some grisly images, brief graphic nudity and language; in French with subtitles; 130 minutes.