France’s decision to submit Paul Verhoeven’s Elle as their official contender for the Foreign Language Oscar offers a tantalizing possibility — a notorious Dutch-born, bad-boy provocateur primarily known for unsubtle, big-budget envelope pushers in the late ’80s and ’90s (RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Starship Troopers) snagging an Oscar at age 78 and revitalizing his career in one fell swoop. The comeback kid!
People vote for this or that film, yes, but they also vote for the best narratives, and in this year’s foreign film realm you really can’t beat Verhoeven’s…c’mon.
Not that Elle won’t be up against some tough competition. My presumptive spitballs include Asghar Farhadi‘s The Salesman (Iran), Kleber Mendonça Filho‘s Aquarius (Brazil), Pablo Larrain‘s Neruda (Chile), Christi Puiu‘s Sieranevada, Maren Ade‘s Toni Erdmann (Germany) and Martin Zandvliet‘s Land of Mine.
From my 9.8 TIFF review: “Elle is one wickedly perverse, end-of-the-world, ice-cold erotic whodunit. It’s not really a thriller as much as a fascinating character study of Isabelle Huppert‘s Michele, a 50something owner of a Parisian videogame company that creates violent rape fantasies, and how a series of assaults and shocks that befall her are reflective of Michele’s pathology and that of the general drift of social mores these days.
“So Elle is partly social criticism and partly a kind of sex comedy. Except you can’t really call it comedic or farcical. Well, you can but the humor is flavored with a chilly, amoral undertow that smothers the hah-hah. But it’s constantly amusing. And the film is sharp, direct and fat-free — the best or least problematic Verhoeven film since Basic Instinct or even Robocop. It runs 130 minutes but feels like 100, if that.”