Elle Blu-ray Review
Elle is the second film from acclaimed director Paul Verhoeven since he left behind Hollywood and the satirical sci-fi excesses of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers some 17 years ago.Having made some genuine classics during his time in Tinseltown, the Dutch director returned to The Netherlands to make the excellent The Black Book and now, a decade on, takes to France to give us a sharp little indie drama driven by a terrific performance from Isabelle Huppert. Despite the budget and small-scale feel, it doesn't take long for Verhoeven's boundary-pushing predilections to come to the fore. Indeed, in another lifetime, with different intentions, this could easily have been the sister-from-another-mother to his psycho-sexual thriller Basic Instinct. Even, perhaps, a follow-up. Huppert plays a sexually unbridled soon-to-be grandmother, burdened only by the trouble brought by the men in her life - a wayward son involved with the wrong girl; a whimsical ex-husband with a fondness for younger models; the waste of space husband of her best friend, who she's having an affair with; her incarcerated murderous father; and the men at her video game company who continually disappoint her by not making her strongly sexualised vision of the game a reality.A single shocking incident should spin her life out of control, sending her over the edge, but it's here that Verhoeven takes his counter-intuitive plotting up a notch, underplaying the reaction and then slowly twisting the screws to make you realise the true psychological ramifications. Roles aren't just reversed in this universe, they're redefined. Huppert's once in-control 'victim' tries to deal with her situation by resolving childhood demons and reconciling adult ones, and there's little room to predict quite where that will lead, nor what exactly Verhoeven wants it all to mean. Interpretation is elusive, as he twists the psychological dagger, with plenty of controversy in what he has to offer, and little palatable resolution. Huppert remains the backbone of the piece, though, committed to her part no matter where it takes her, utterly convincing in her role as the sympathetic centre-piece anti-heroine, who celebrates her flaws before finally addressing them. It's an undeniably strong work from a director who is sorely missed - 3 films in 20 years is simply not enough.
Picture QualityWhilst Paul Verhoeven's features have never been renowned for their crystal clarity, preferring a slightly gritty edge to the universes portrayed, Elle attempts to somewhat have its cake and eat it, with the digitally shot feature eschewing all of the normal traits of HD productions - obviously through stylistic choices - and instead favouring a strangely soft, misty look that has no obvious visual benefits. The 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation is the opposite of what you'd ideally like from a reference disc, but is probably fairly faithful to the source material and the stylistic intentions of the director.
Not a very pretty picture
Detail is middling at best, with few standout moments, and a haze pervading the piece, leaving even close-ups wanting in terms of clarity. Noise is quite variable, which is less forgivable, affecting darker sequences more overtly, and the image is certainly not devoid of digital defects. The colour scheme too is muted, all furthering the classic look that the film was going for, but which simply doesn't translate very well as a retro-fit to a digitally-shot production. All in all it's not a very pretty picture, and certainly isn't going to be used for demo purposes, although it's hard to be too harsh when you have to accept the fact that this is likely pretty-much what Verhoeven wanted it to look like.
Sound QualityA stable, strong and faithful offering which does a solid job with the material
The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in the movie's original French is more stable but also not exactly demo quality, with strong promotion of the dialogue clearly and coherently across the frontal array, whilst effects coverage is spotty but very naturalistic. The video game promos are feverish, whilst a latter end car sequence has some punch. The attacks too come with thunderous threat and palpable impact, but it's otherwise quite a restrained affair, relying instead upon mood and atmosphere. For the latter we turn to the score, which does a tremendous job at maintaining the tense and dark undertones of the affair. It's a stable, strong and faithful offering which won't ignite your soundstage, but does a solid job with the material nonetheless.
ExtrasA light smattering of extras provides some background in the form of a Featurette, and a little reflection upon the talents of Isabelle Huppert, but little else.
VerdictUndeniably strong work from a director who has been sorely missed
Elle rides high on a tremendous lead performance, with a surprisingly reflective, considered Verhoeven largely reining in his excesses in favour of a focus on the more psychological elements at play. It doesn't always work, but it's certainly nice to see the director back behind the camera. The disc, unfortunately, does not offer great video - largely because of the problems with the source material - but with solid audio and a few extras, and also likely little choice (given it's the material that's really to blame), you should try not to let that put you off checking out this little curio.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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