It took me almost 24 hours to work out my response to this film. I kept swaying between “very very good” and “very very annoying” and so walked away from writing about it as nothing I put down made any sense to me.
Having now figured out what the main issue for me was, it’s impossible to describe without spoilers, so don’t read on if you don’t want to know things about the film.
Isabelle Huppert is, of course, outstanding as a woman who has been assaulted in her own home and who deals with the incident in a manner which is not how I imagine I would deal with the situation.
Following the vicious and violent attack, Huppert tidies up, orders take away, and the next day goes back to work as usual. Outwardly, nothing has changed but inside, that seems not to be the case. The attack appears to have given her permission to explore or acknowledge sexual preferences and fantasies that (as far as we know) are new to her. And while I was fine with her trying out or instigating these liaisons, I could not watch her being repeatedly punched, hard, in the head, by her ‘assailant’. I could accept an awful lot of what she was doing, but not that. Not having her head beaten against the wall or the floor. Huppert is a physically tiny woman; her sparring partner is younger, taller, much stronger. Despite the fact that she may have felt in control mentally, the force with which she was being hit would have seen her off almost immediately.
And despite the fact that we see her enjoying her sexual encounters, the first time the stranger enters her home it is uninvited and therefore the sexual act in which she was forced to take part was not consensual. No matter what she did or decided afterwards, the first time was not in her control. And this went unacknowledged, even by the character herself, and is the very heart of why I was feeling conflicted for the rest of the film.
What we learn about her background perhaps sheds some light on her initial reaction not to report the incident, but I was not entirely convinced, and while I can appreciate Huppert’s performance, the niggling anger is still with me.
After seeing the film, I was rummaging around the internet and discovered that the book from which the screenplay was adapted was written by the same man who wrote Betty Blue. With which I also had problems.
I wonder if this was more Verhoeven’s fantasy than Huppert’s.