Paul Verhoeven remodels the erotic mystery thriller in Elle, a caustic comedy that is far more challenging than you're prepared for. The great director handles this strange, surprising story with a flippancy and a tonal restlessness that resembles less those films in his career to which this bears some similarities as it does that entire career, and suggesting ever further advancements in his artistic and psychological inquiries. Indeed, even Verhoeven's treatment of that story is surprising, bringing bizarre qualities to bracing life yet grounding them in diegesis that he somehow keeps consistently concordant, while putting a fresh, confrontational spin on already-discomfiting material. It's in his interpretation, and his almost alone, that this curious crime drama acquires its singular character, and thus forms a unity in its outlook to that of its protagonist. In that Isabelle Huppert so typically assumes total, inimitable control over her role, she engages in an interpretative collaboration with her director, ever matching Elle's many perverse twists and turns, and enhancing them further, with quirks of her own devising. Control is central to the statements made in Elle that run through its otherwise disparate, disarming lines of interest, proposing provocative solutions to the challenge of defining a woman's identity that will doubtless disgust many. Yet the bold individuality of this fascinating character is such that the objective viewer can only applaud her bravery and her intelligence, and her unyielding dedication to personal fulfilment. In fulfilling our requirements too, as unknown to us as they initially are, Elle deserves every last bit of that applause.