Film Facts: “Elle,” “Bad Santa 2” + more
It’s amazing how such diverse films as Elle and Bad Santa 2 have similar genre traits. Both film delve into politically wrong humor and boundary pushing situations.
Only Elle is an art film supreme, from acclaimed director Paul Verhoeven and full of metaphors and innuendo and unexpected feelings. It’s a cold and dark beating heart, but it has a soul and an afterlife. By contrast, Bad Santa 2 has no pulse.
Bad Santa 2 will be best remembered for its malapropism “the ejaculate conception” rather that any of its pussy, midget or sodomy jokes. BS2 is a forgettable walk to the parking lot.
By contrast Elle starts with a brutal rape scene heard only in sound while the reaction cut-from-black shot is of Elle’s cat. From then the film becomes convoluted in themes of masochism and sociopathy. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As far as Elle’s concerned you’re living in a world of constant heartbreak only relieved by occasional glimpses of cruelty to others.
Verhoeven specializes in pushing audience buttons, whether it’s foreign films like Spetters or Black Book or his American films like Basic Instinct, Robocop and Starship Troopers. Elle is Verhoeven’s first film in French.
Isabelle Huppert refuses to go to the police after her assault. A second act reveal informs the audience that she distrusts all authority because at the age of nine her father committed a series of brutal murders and she was vilified just for being his daughter. Meanwhile Huppert as Michéle Leblanc hates her mother who wants to marry a man younger than both of them and supports her delusional son while also despising his fiancée. There is no character named Elle by the way, not unlike Kenneth Lonergan’s film Margaret, which has no character with that titular name. Elle is a French word for “she.”
Michéle is a real piece of work, calculating her cruelty to others in small doses. She also runs a video game company that specializes in fantasy worlds where violence and rape are common. Perhaps Verhoeven is weaving images with a sense of cinema of cruelty. That involves the game imagery but also a windstorm where shutters must be utilized to keep windows from breaking, or a bird flying into one of Michéle’s windows and her trying to help it only to have her cat grab the bird out of her hand. Certainly that applies to Elle’s repeated rape fantasies.
There’s a three other plot twists that I’m avoiding in order not to spoil audience expectations. Yet Elle is a film you will not second-guess.
Elle unwinds exclusively at the River Oaks Theatre.
The Eagle Huntress (exclusive at the River Oaks Theatre) plays like a narrative feature but was actually shot as a documentary among Kazakh speaking people in Mongolia who use trained eagles to hunt for their food. Director Otto Bell spent his life savings filming in harsh conditions that include deep snow and howling wind. The focus is on a thirteen-year-old girl, Aisholpan, who defies centuries of tribal tradition to become the first distaff eagle huntress.
Allied boasts a strong cast, story and production values. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard provide star power under Robert Zemeckis’ assured direction. The WWII story starts in Casablanca, moves to England with a diversion in France. Treachery begats spy missions begats loyalty. Allied is a tasty film to feast on. Some genre similarities to The English Patient and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
Nocturnal Animals refers to both a dark novel and a life of anxiety. In parallel stories a rich artist (Amy Adams) puts on shows that feature naked obese women dancing at an art gallery opening. Her husband may be cheating on her. She’s recently reconnected with her first husband. He has sent her a galley of his novel “Nocturnal Animals,” which details a bleak story of a family being run off the road late at night and kidnapped by psychos while on their way to West Texas. Director (and fashionista) Tom Ford provides two views of society – opulent and backwards. Cast includes Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Michael Shannon having the biggest impact as a sheriff who takes the law into his own hands.