Without Isabelle Huppert, the thriller “Elle” would clearly not have been of the same level. This is in any case what affirms the director Paul Verhoeven, who was stunned by the performance of the actress and who let her transform the film.
She : Isabelle Huppert at the heart of a perverse game
Before BenedettaPaul Verhoeven signs a first French-language film with She. Released in 2016, this thriller opens with a chilling scene. Alone in her home in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) sees a man break into her home. The hooded individual strikes her and violence. She chooses not to file a complaint, announces the news to her relatives and resumes her position as director of a company specializing in video games as if nothing had happened.
Michèle decides to conduct her own investigation and begins a perverse game with her rapist, destined to end in blood… Laurent Lafitte, Virginie Efira, Charles Berling and Anne Consigny complete the distribution of the feature film, adapted from the book Oh… by Philippe Dijan. A project that Paul Verhoeven plans to tour the United States for a whilebut which could never have seen the light of day across the Atlantic, as he confides in the press kit :
It was complicated, from a financial point of view, and also artistically: we realized that no American actress would accept to play in such an amoral film. Even those I knew well, it was impossible for them to say yes to such a role.
An actress who transcends the film
On the other hand, Isabelle Huppert expressed her interest in the main role from the start of the development of the project. And the actress far exceeds the filmmaker’s expectations during filming. Asked by Slant Magazine in 2016, Paul Verhoeven explains that he is used to talking with his actors about the nature of their character, taking for example his collaborations with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone. But with Michèle’s interpreter, there is no need to communicate.
The director realizes that Isabelle Huppert understands this extremely troubled protagonist perfectly. So he lets her improvise and keeps a lot of scenes in the final cut:
We never talked about the psychology of the character. I let her. I let her do it even when she continued scenes long after they were supposed to end. She kept going over and over, and I let her, and I used everything in the movie. What she did was better than the book, the script and what I had in mind, so I accepted it immediately.
During an interview for Le FigaroPaul Verhoeven assures that the actress blew him away during the shooting of the particularly trying rape sequence:
When the rapist commits his act. It’s awful. Anyone faced with this situation would run away. Not her. She shouted “Get out, get out” and continued to play. She went to the right, to the left, she fell, she sat down, she looked around her. I looked at her, fascinated. I didn’t say, “Cut!” She had already included the next scene in the sequence.