Here’s a film that will be controversial, as it takes on the darkest black comedy challenge of all time – make a comedy that involves rape! You heard right… it shocked and surprised audiences at Cannes, where it was nominated for the Palme D’Or five months ago, and it might take me that long to recover. 

Michelle (Isabelle Huppert) is one enigmatic 46 year old. The film opens as she’s raped (offscreen) and she’s so unfazed you wonder if it’s fantasy. And it might be. She  carries on and chides her gormless son, Vincent (Jonas Bolquet) before she goes to work at the software company she owns, as if nothing has happened, and chides her staff for it not having enough sex (which looks more like rape) in the next game release. She finally tells her friends at dinner just as the champagne arrives. ‘Very good. Wait a few minutes before opening it,’ says a friend. 

She wants to move on and forget, but once the texts and vulgar emails start, she starts to take the threats seriously and tries to hunt down her attacker.

Not that life is a breeze for Michelle. People hate her for her father’s crimes; her mother is about to marry a man as young as her son, who is married to an abusive ‘beyatch’; she’s also juggling an affair, while lusting for her neighbour. It might sound like a farce, but it’s settling for a black comedy. Pity, as it could have been a disturbing psychological drama. 

This is directed by Paul Verhoeven, who gave us ‘Basic Instinct’ (and Showgirls!). Like all Verhoeven films, the art direction is excellent. There’s great imagery, colour and gloss to every scene, and your eyes are in for a treat. It’s a pity he treats so many of the characters in the same way. 

Huppert is a fantastic actress. She has a moorish beauty that keeps you captivated and this character has lots going on underneath and around her, and most of it is amoral. Her character is the only one with layers and there are plenty. Her bestie Anne (Anne Consigny) is good but unbelievable; her son is too stupid for words. Her ex-husband Richard (Charles Berling) is pathetic; her mother (Judith Magre) is  meant to be comical but ends up cringeworthy. There lots of others who aren’t worth mentioning as too many serve as red herrings as to who is the rapist. When you find out who it is, it takes another farcical turn.

Verhoeven’s  ego seems to have a taken a battering since ‘Basic Instinct’ and this is his attempt to recapture its gloss. Here’s a tip for him… it was a film of its time, and it’s time to move on. I recall his surprise Showgirls was panned as he used the same ingredients but had a different result – hilarity. Here he goes for black comedy, and doesn’t quite hit it. 

Verhoeven made this in Europe as he knew no American actress would touch it. I wonder why Huppert did, although she eats this up. She’s off the leash and is great. And they – director, writer and actor – are already out defending the themes of this film. I wish them good luck. 

I chuckled at times, but I didn’t respond to this film. (Well, I did in that I wanted to grab someone and ask ‘Was that the best produced pile of crap you’ve ever seen?’). I was truly bewildered, until some lines towards the end confirmed it was chasing laughs. 

I don’t think the comedy matches the drama, and the topic of rape makes it hard to laugh. And the constant twists shows it is trying hard. Some critics are saying Verhoeven is back to his best. Maybe, but I think Starship Troopers was far funnier and more insightful than this. 

Con’s Score 2.5 X-boxes

Con Nats – Talking Arts