Oscar 2016: Isabelle Huppert Oscar-Caliber Performance in Verhoeven’s Elle

As of today, during the first five months of 2016, I have seen only one bona-fide Oscar-caliber performance: Isabelle Huppert in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle.

elle_poster_verhoevenDominating the film from first scene to last, Huppert renders an astonishing, Oscar-caliber performance in a meaty and flashy role, which allows her to display the entire gamut of emotions, based on her incredible range of skills.

My detailed and glowing review of Elle, a darkly humorous tale of sexual politics, centering on one complex (to say the least) woman, and including the controversial issue of rape, will appear later.  But for now, suffice is to say that this is a major comeback for Verhoeven, the only director I know of who shows the interface between sex and violence to the point where his movies–prime example is Basic Instinct–can be described as both violently sexy and sexually violent.

ELLE – Trailer

Appearing in each and every scene of the film, which smoothly changes tone from one setting to another, and from one interaction to another, Huppert dominates the saga with a fearless performance that’s nothing short of brilliant.  She is so perfectly cast that it’s hard to imagine any other actress of her generation playing this complex and demanding role in such a subtle, multi-nuanced mode.

elle_1_verhoevenIn the aptly titled Elle, Huppert gives her most fully realized performance since The Piano Teacher, in which she also excelled in playing a tough and demanding part, a femme driven by bizarre, even perverse sexual desire.

I cannot think of any another French actress–not even Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Adjani, Juliette Binoche, Marion Cotillard, all fantastic and beautiful performers–who have dissected the erotic desires and sexual mores and manners of modern and contemporary women as deeply and thoroughly as Huppert had in her extraordinary forty year screen career!

elle_4_verhoevenBy the way, all four aforementioned actresses have been nominated for an Oscar, and two of them have won: Juliette Binoche, Best Supporting Actress in 1996 for The English Patient (which was an American film in English), and Marion Cotillard, Best Actress, for the 2008 French biopic of Piaf, La Vie en Rose.

I exclude the legendary French screen actress Simone Signoret, who deservedly won the 1959 Best Actress Oscar for the English-speaking A Room at the Top, because she belongs to an older generation.

Huppert, who strangely enough has never been nominated for an Oscar, was singled out twice with juried awards at the Cannes Film Fest.  In 1978, she won the Best Actress for Claude Chabrol’s Violette Noziere, and in 2001 she received the kudo for The Piano Teacher.


Michael Haneke, who directed Huppert twice, in The Piano Teacher and in The Hour of the Wolf, has noted in a 2001 interview for the Guardian: “Isabelle has such professionalism, the way she is able to represent suffering. At one end you have the extreme of her suffering and then you have her icy intellectualism. No other actor can combine the two.”

elle_6_verhoevenHaneke’s sharp observation can be equally applied to her astounding performance in Elle, in which she adds to the two aforementioned qualities a nasty (blacker than black) sense of humor.  (Spoiler Alert: just note her facial expression and droll remark when she is present at the birth of her grandson, and the baby turns out to be black, while her own white son claims to be his father!).

At 63, Huppert, one of the most accomplished actresses in world (not just French) cinema, is at the prime of her game, adding yet another panel to what’s already an illustrious career.