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Entries in Elle (1)



A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

Imagine the last 100 years of cinema without the like of Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Hepburn & Tracy, Bogey & Bacall, Hope & Crosby, Newman & Redford, Bergman & von Sydow, Cassavetes & Rowlands, Scorsese & De Niro, Almodovar & Banderas, R2-D2 & C-3PO, Raimi & Campbell. Perfect film pairings have provided magical moments, driven collaborative genius, challenged artistry to break new ground. In 2016, two unlikely pairs came together and inspired new and unique reserves of strength and creativity in each other…

A headline-grabbing ‘hot button’ issue at Cannes 2016 was how star Isabelle Huppert and director Paul Verhoeven portrayed the central character’s rape and PTSD-based reaction in their engrossing, disturbing, often blackly funny collaboration, Elle. The attack, shot from different perspectives and revisited on several occasions (in real time, in flashback, from her point-of-view, then his) demanded that the actress and her director be in a place of unflinching trust and unified vision. In calling the film “a masterpiece of suave perversity”, The New York Times critic A.O. Scott hailed the work as “a duet for director and star.” The drama, which confronts gender roles, sexualised violence and accepted rape psychology, is a throwback for the director, who started his career with such boundary-pushers as Diary of a Hooker (1971), Turkish Delight (1973) and The 4th Man (1983). He told Variety that Huppert’s fearlessness in the role was an inspiration. “Several times during the shoot she became explosive and did things that were not in the script because she was so deep in character,” he said. “In normal times, I would have said ‘cut’ but her performance was so powerful I couldn’t stop her.” At a Q&A after its New York Film Festival debut, Huppert acknowledged the trust and respect her director afforded her. “Paul said that he was interested with what I was doing, because since I was a woman, by definition I would know more than him, what I was supposed to do,” she said. The mutual admiration and affection extended beyond the shoot; when asked about deflecting criticism from the world press, Huppert cited the strength of her friendship with the director. “When I’ve travelled with Elle, Paul has been there,” she told Collider. “If I was just by myself maybe I would be nervous but I think we protect each other.”

Yes, one half of this cinematic pairing is a CGI monster of the deep. But so compelling a villain was director’s Jaume Collet-Serra’s underwater killer, it drew a performance of powerful physicality and raw instinct from star Blake Lively as only the best supporting actor parts can. The non-speaking, even non-human counterpoint is not without precedent, of course. Consider the big-screen impact of the relentless semi-trailer in Steven Spielberg’s Duel and the frenzied panic it inspired in leading man Dennis Weaver; the mind games that astronaut Keir Dullea had to conjure to beat renegade computer, Hal 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey; and, perhaps most appropriately, the stand-off between Dee Wallace and a rabid St Bernard in Cujo. Like all good actresses, Lively tried to understand the motivation of her screen partner, stating “Sharks are trying to survive the damage to their environment and habitat just as Nancy is trying to survive in the water. I went from having that standard primal fear that people have of sharks to really appreciating, understanding and respecting them.” Diving with great whites off the South African coast gave the actress a respectful perspective. “I was always terrified of great white sharks, but being in the water with them, being within their habitat, they don’t look like big, monstrous creatures,” she told The Lifestyle Report, adding “they’re beautiful, peaceful and serene.” What emerged on screen was a thrilling game of predator vs prey, a primal struggle that transcended its B-movie premise and provided its lead players with some of the most terrifying movie moments of 2016.