The question isn’t whether or not Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of a Philippe Djian novel is problematic; it’s only whether or not the ways in which it’s problematic get in the way of what’s fascinating about it. Isabelle Huppert plays Michèle Leblanc, a video-game company president who is raped during a home invasion as the movie begins. What follows is a thorny character study sparked by Huppert’s performance as a woman whose tormented past—her father is in prison for a mass murder—is connected to her seeming self-loathing and manipulations of friends and family in the present. It’s impossible to ignore that Michèle’s Roman Catholic upbringing is somehow connected to her behavior, and perhaps even more impossible to ignore the ways in which she becomes a willing participant in sexual violence once her assailant becomes known to her. Verhoeven’s provocative perversity makes it harder to resolve whether the connection between those two ideas justifies them both, makes them both even more potentially offensive, or simply makes for a narrative that requires multiple viewings to untangle the connection between shame and the need to find some manner of penance.
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