Responsible for some of the most iconic movies of the eighties and nineties, director Paul Verhoeven remains something of a legend to a generation who grew up with his unique blend of satire, sex and ultraviolence – namely through the likes of Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and Starship Troopers.
After the underwhelming release of invisible man chiller Hollow Man back in 2000 though, Verhoeven returned to The Netherlands, where he would go on to craft his last film for a decade – the period piece espionage tale Black Book, a well-received venture that would also form the breakout role for future Game of Thrones star Carice van Houten.
Now, ten years on, Verhoeven’s back with Elle – a violent thriller in which Isabelle Huppert plays a powerful executive raped in her home and who dedicates herself to stalking her attacker. Though hardly off-the-beaten-path for the director, he’s nevertheless adamant that he could never have made such a project in the US, blaming a wider systemic problem: namely the studios’ lust for PG-13 box-office returns.
“[A PG-13 rating is the] studio wanting to make money. R-rated movies are excluded because they limit the audience,” he claims. “The capitalist system completely dominates the American film industry. It’s all about the bottom line. Any argument about filmmaking or art is lost. Even the art of meaning is lost. There’s no meaning to American cinema anymore. The only meaning is money. It’s reduced to that, and it’s horrible.
Capitalism can also accept there are other values than money, but it looks like studios can only look at movies for pure profit. That’s why the R rating is gone. Then you get more people, but you sacrifice everything that is edgy or sexual. You sacrifice anything that might offend people. Now if you go to a multiplex, everything is PG-13.”
He’s quick to assert that there is still room for creativity within the system however, adding: “You can still express yourself in American filmmaking. Look at The Big Short, which I think is a really well-made movie. It’s still interesting and innovative. It’s still possible to make good American movies, and there’s an enormous amount of talent, but it’s not used in the maximum way… I don’t think things will stay that way. The balance might shift.”
The strong reviews for Elle however could well see the director being pursued by Hollywood once more, something Verhoeven admits is not unenticing to him if the right project were on offer. Surprisingly, for a director more known for action and science-fiction than anything else, the project he’s most interested in would be a horror feature, admitting “If they offered me a book like The Shining, I would immediately say yes. I would love to do a clever horror film.”