MM: Huppert plays a woman of 60. Movies often deal with male sexuality even in old age, but to do the same with female sexuality is very rare. Did that make it difficult?

PV: Well, women who are 60, 70 and 80 still want to have sex. That’s the reality.

MM: But there aren’t many movies showing that.

PV: No, because that’s probably not attractive enough to the audience, with the wrinkles, and the breasts are not perfect anymore, and the women themselves might feel that way. Of course, the studios might not want that; there’s prejudice against it. However, I felt free to break that here, and it’s still a bit strange that no well-known American actress wanted to do it. It’s also strange that they all said “no” in a very firm way. It was not even “Let’s talk about it.” I feel that this is largely due to the fact that the character is not 20 or 30 or whatever. Perhaps an American movie would have to make her 32. That’s what’s interesting, thoughthat this woman is in her early 50s and is still masturbating.

There’s one scene where the characters are playing a bit of footsie under the table and she puts her foot mainly in the guy’s crotch. Of course, women are like that. Men and women are both like that. And there’s basically, let’s say, a false perception that women, because of hormonal changes in their 40s, stop doing such things because their sex drive is basically gone. That is absolutely not true. I can assure you.

Huppert and cat in Elle

MM: The accident scene is a very important moment in the movie since it changes the whole structure of the plot. Can you say a little bit about the accident?

PV: The accident happens after she finally goes to her father and hears that he’s dead, having committed suicide because he didn’t get to see his daughter anymore. After getting this news she goes home and the accident happens. It’s in the novel so I didn’t invent it. She’s cold in the car and can’t get out. She tries to reach her friends but but ultimately calls the rapist to come help her. And that’s clearly the big decision, that she basically decides in that moment that, “Yes, he raped me but he can help me now.” She makes a very calculated decision based on opportunism like, “He will certainly not say no because I know too much about him,” or, “Whatever I do, he will come.” He’s a banker and doesn’t want it to be in the press that he raped someone so she’s sure that he will come to help her. However, I think there might also be a sense of curiosity, such as you see in the next scene, when he brings her home and she is really trying to find out why he did it. Why did he rape her? He doesn’t answer her more indirect questions so then she finally just asks, “Why did you do it?” He gives the answer, “It was necessary.”

It’s implied that the rapist cannot get an erection if he just has normal sex. He has to be in a sadomasochistic situation. Apparently she is curious enough, perhaps forgiving enough, that this touches something in her that was always there. However, the movie doesn’t say that and does not want to say that. It is basically a mystery of the mind that should be felt by the audience members themselves. I felt that I should not say, “This is the reason for this and that.” The information is given and you can interpret the moment when she agrees to go into the cellar for what you know will be a sadomasochistic scene.

MM: We have extreme characters here, such as the rapist’s religious wife, who contrasts with other characters by wanting to listen to mass during the Christmas party.

PV: It’s her that wants to listen to the mass and she also asks for prayer. The religious side of her is strongly established, much more than in the book, so that is already a change. I mean, it’s there in the book that she wants to listen to the mass but the way that I did it, I gave it much more, let’s say, visibility and emphasis, which for me has a lot to do with what happens at the very end of the movie when when she moves out. Her husband is dead so she packs up all of her stuff and moves away but Michèle says, “Well, it’s all horrible what happened, isn’t it?,” to which the wife replies, “Well, he was a tortured man.” She knows. “He was a nice man but he had a tortured soul.” That’s what she says, showing that she knew there was something there, but then next line goes even much further when she says, “Well, thank you very much for what you did for him at least for some time.”

I won’t say that it’s not meant to be an attack, but it is really opening for what Jesus once said about “Whoever has ears, he should listen.” That was a very famous line that he says several times in the gospels. This, of course, has to do with the Roman Catholic Church as a functioning movement or whatever you want to call it. It’s worth nothing that the line is not in the book. That was added by David Birke, and I got it. When I read the script and then suddenly that scene was there and this line is there. It that made me think, “OK, then I have to make that really work. It would be very interesting to present somebody like you really believe is a practicing honorable Roman Catholic and then destroy it.”

Huppert and Arthur Mazet as Kevin in Elle

MM: The question of destruction is consistently raised in your work.

PV: Of course. That has to do with a very famous statement—I don’t know if that was Turner or somebody—about how destruction from a distance is beautiful. Well, you see it in Turner’s paintings. He was an English painter from some time ago, like the 19th century. If you see all of his paintings of the fleet burning in the sea, then it’s beautiful but, of course, if you were there close up, then it would be horror.

I don’t know exactly what that is but if you look at American movies, then you’ll see that there is, let’s say, a total addiction to destruction. I mean, how many cars were destroyed during the last 20 or 50 years in American movies? They crash and they blow up, and it’s not only cars, it’s everything—buildings falling down, big disasters. All of these Marvel movies are just destruction, destruction, destruction on a major, major, major scale. Why?

You have to ask, “What is this animal called human? What is in his mind that he loves to see that?” I have no response to that, but I have observed it. It’s clear that we find a certain pleasure in observing destruction—not of your own house, of course, but of everything else. MM

Elle opens in theaters November 11, 2016, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. All images photographed by Guy Ferrandis/SBS Productions, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

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