Aaagh. I think this movie is well-made crap but I’m not sure. Okay, I need to admit my bias. It is directed by Paul Verhoeven who also directed Starship Troopers, the favourite film of a person very dear to me who I won’t name to save him embarrassment although anyone who knows him well will know who I’m talking about. And I think Starship Troopers is a heap of well-made misogynist crap. But believe me, I went into this movie with high (though slightly nervous) hopes.
I knew that the central story was about a woman who is raped and I am wary of films by men about woman being raped. Not that a man can’t say something important about such an experience – I’m thinking of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible as an example of this – but I wasn’t so confident that Verhoeven (who made the evil creature in Troopers look like a big monstrous vagina) would necessarily understand a woman’s point of view.
I was hoping that the rape wouldn’t be shown, or at least not lingered on, and so was impressed immediately when, in the opening moments, we hear the rape happening but don’t see it. But then it is shown. And again. And then another rape. And another. Sigh. But the story is interesting. Isabelle Huppert plays Michèle, a successful businesswoman, with an ex-husband, a married lover, a son she struggles to love and a company that makes violent video games. She’s a complicated character, played with restraint by Huppert and, unavoidably perhaps, reminiscent of her character in The Piano Teacher.
Where the complexity of the story emerges is with her past, where an event perpetrated by her father has shaped her life. After she is raped, she only tells those close to her days later and we can see that she has an ability to emotionally detach and, perhaps, also feel deserving of pain. This is the theme at the core of the story, about how we internalise shame and what we do when we can hold it in no longer.
But, for all its restraint and subtle humour and its ability to build a sense of menace, the ending seemed trite. I can’t help comparing it to the ending of The Piano Teacher where we may not understand everything, but we feel it. Not so with this film. Clever-ish. Absorbing. But as a fellow MIFFer said to his gaggle of friends as we filed out of the Forum, “Ugh, like a midday movie but R-rated.” It wasn’t that bad but he had a point.
Bechdel test – pass