Isabelle Huppert earned her first Academy Award nomination a couple weeks ago for her splendid performance in Paul Verhoeven's Elle. I knew very little about this film going into it and didn't realize how totally fucked up the story is. I say fucked up in a good way, of course. The interpersonal relationships Huppert's character negotiates coupled with the macabre history she must convince us she's experienced provide the viewer with a wonderful display of acting prowess.
Huppert plays Michèle, who in the opening scene is raped in her home by a masked man. As the daughter of an incarcerated mass murderer, she is wary of the police and does not report it. Spoiler: after suspecting a few people, we learn it's her handsome new neighbor, Patrick, and Michèle toys with a roleplay-like sexual relationship with him, before setting him up and allowing her son to whack him on the head and kill him at the end.
Of course the story is more complicated than that, but I don't want to focus on the plot as much as Huppert's performance. There are so many things going on for this character: crazy locked-up dad, being raped, wanting to sleep with your rapist, having a son who's in denial about his own "son's" paternity, an affair with your best friend's husband, being at the head of a video game company and resenting your selfish mother. How the hell can one work out the interplay of all these factors? Well, Huppert apparently does it seamlessly, because on paper it sounds way over the top, but onscreen it actually works.
Sidebar: I've been taking French classes for about a year and a half but watching a film in French makes it painfully obvious how much I struggle to to understand what's going on when the language is spoken quickly and conversationally.
If this were not a foreign film I'd be hard pressed to see how Huppert loses the Oscar. Will enough voters see the film and not be turned off by its somewhat disturbing plot lines though? She's already won the Golden Globe, New York Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics awards. I've yet to see Jackie, but this performance is likely the only one that could prevail over Emma Stone and the La La Land train. Bonne chance, Isabelle.