Sunday 25 June 2017

A thriller Hitchcock might have made

* Elle (18, 130mins), 5 Stars
* Catfight (15A, 95mins), 2 Stars
* Dancer (No Cert, IFI, 85mins), 3 Stars
* In Loco Parentis (PG, 99mins), 3 Stars

Unpredictable: Isabelle Huppert stars in Elle
Unpredictable: Isabelle Huppert stars in Elle

Paul Whitington

Perverse, wicked, transgressive and technically excellent, Elle is the kind of movie one could imagine Alfred Hitchcock making were he still around. There's no higher praise than that, and while I haven't always been Paul Verhoeven's biggest fan, this film really is special. It's troubling from the very start, dealing with a sex attack and its aftermath, but is stubbornly unpredictable in terms of its plot and makes you laugh when you know you really shouldn't.

Frosty video game company CEO Michèle LeBlanc is at home one night when a masked man breaks in and rapes her. When he goes, her self-possession as she gathers herself is remarkable and unsettling: she waits days before telling her friends, then does so with a shrug as if discussing a car prang, or bad weather. Her response is baffling, and she acts as though the attack has not impinged on her at all, but as her story unfolds we see why.

When Michèle was 10, her father embarked on a killing spree, involving his daughter in the crimes. He's still in jail, and Michèle refuses to speak to him and has an understandably fraught relationship with her mother (Judith Magre). Her only real friend is her work partner, Anna (Anne Consigny), but Michèle is sleeping with her husband behind her back, and seems intent on sabotaging every relationship because deep down she feels unworthy of them.

Elle is a mesmerising film - rich, perverse, full of hidden troughs. And Huppert is astonishingly complex.

First shown here during the Dublin Film Festival, Catfight is an odd little film that makes a lot of noise but never quite manages to justify its existence.

In a storyline so simple it might have been bracing, Anne Heche and Sandra Oh play Ashley and Veronica, old college acquaintances who despise each other.

When they meet at a party for the first time in years, Ashley gets so enraged by a snide remark that she beats the tar out of Veronica and leaves her in a coma.

When she emerges it from it a year later, Veronica finds out that her husband killed himself and her son died in Iraq. Naturally, vengeance springs to mind. A satirical sideline about the Iraq War is never properly developed, and Catfight's most memorable scenes involve Heche and Oh going at it like Tom and Jerry. Maybe this all sounded funny on paper.

Steven Cantor's elegant documentary Dancer explores the life of Ukrainian-born ballet star Sergei Polunin. The 27-year-old dancer's grace and talent were evident early on, and in a string of haunting home videos we watch him transform from callow youth to brilliant star. He rose to fame after coming to London to study, and in 2010 became the Royal Ballet's youngest ever principal.

But Sergei admits he strove for excellence in order to bring his divorced parents back together, and the strain of it all has told. His dancing is sublime, but he comes across like an exhausted young man who never had a childhood.

And finally, a word about In Loco Parentis, a touching and likeable Irish documentary following a year in the lives of two extraordinary teachers at Ireland's only primary-age boarding school. Neasa Ní Chianáin's film reveals Headfort School as a special, almost magical place presided over with love by veteran educators John and Amanda Leyden. With its hidden passageways, Headfort seems like a junior Hogwarts. But I would like to have heard from the parents who are happy to pack off kids as young as seven to a boarding institution, and we don't really get to know those inmates. It's well made, though.

Irish Independent

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