"Elle": Heroine

Can there be a stronger, smarter, more entertaining feminist movie than Isabelle Huppert's thriller cum Black Comedy social statement "Elle?"

Michele LeBlanc (Huppert) is brutally raped in the movie's first scene. As soon as the rapist departs, LeBlanc tends to her cat, cleans up the apartment and goes to work. Report to the police? No. Seek immediate assistance or even sympathy from neighbors or friends? No. Her calm, self contained manner in going about her ordinary business is as jarring in juxtaposition as the rape itself.

Huppert ("Amour", "The Piano Teacher", "I Heart the Huckabees") seems one of the few actresses who could carry off such a transition with such plausible equanimity. In a minor acknowledgement of what has happened to her and the possibility of future danger, she does buy some pepper spray and a nasty looking hatchet.

Then it's back to the video game company which she runs sternly over her unruly millennial gamers. She eventually tells her friends, Anna (Anne Consigny) and Robert (Christian Berkel), with whom she is having a secret affair. But she quickly regrets even this matter of fact mention, not wanting to bother them.

It's not that she doesn't take the periodic threats and reappearances of her rapist seriously. But her strength of character and intelligence seems to have relegated violence to a lower priority in her life. More immediate demands populate her life. Her under achieving slow-witted son Vincent and his very pregnant abrasive girl friend Josie bounce from hubris to humor. Her video gaming prima donna staff need tough love. Needy ex-husband and lascivious mother hover in near orbit, neither successfully independent.

Woven through family and professional demands are a series of sexual affairs which seem more about satisfying need, than nurturing affection. Her juggling acts - from bed to board room - are handled with aplomb. Huppert is masterful. Just the slightest curl of the edges of her mouth or the minor arch of an eyebrow suggests what we cannot know behind the placid lack of affect exterior.

Huppert is not telling us what she thinks. But she is showing us that the real work, even the more taxing threats, are from every day life.

Director Paul Verhoeven carries on his deft work on action black comedies ("Starship Troopers", "Total Recall", "Robocop", "Basic Instinct") with a screenplay by David Birke ("Gacy," "Dahmer") based on a novel by Philippe Djian.

But this smart, funny, thriller really belongs to Isabelle Huppert . . . clearly a woman to be reckoned with.