Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven put together quite a resume of films. He had the art house hit “The 4th Man,” the camp sci-fi classic “RoboCop,” the sizzling thriller “Basic Instinct” (remember that Sharon Stone business?), the impossible-to-categorize “Showgirls,” and the over-the-top sci-fi entry “Starship Troopers” (which, against his wishes, is about to be remade).

The 77-year-old director’s newest film, the French-language “Elle,” is a dramatic study of what it’s like to live life as a victim. It opens with the sounds of a brutal rape during a daytime house break-in, which is witnessed by the only character onscreen: A creepy looking, loudly purring cat. In a quick look at the aftermath, we see that the rapist is masked, and the victim is Michelle (Isabelle Hupert, still radiant in her 60s) who, though shaken to the core, calmly goes about cleaning up whatever was smashed during the attack.

Michelle is a successful businesswoman — she co-runs a company that ironically produces violent and misogynistic video games — but she’s a victim on many levels. She’s divorced from Richard, though he’s still a friend; she’s in the middle of an affair with Robert, who is married to Michelle’s business partner Anna; Michelle’s adult son Vincent is a loser with no money or ambition, who lives with Josie, his vile, pregnant girlfriend (who might be sleeping around); Michelle’s silly mother is the most promiscuous woman she knows; and her father has been in prison for four decades, convicted of being a serial killer. And though his crimes happened all those years ago, no one — from the media to Michelle — has forgotten that there were once thoughts that she was involved in those crimes, as a 10-year-old.

She’s a woman dealing with all of these problems when the rape happens, and now that’s what’s mostly on her mind. In one flashback to it, the break-in and rape are shown. In a later one, Michelle imagines beating her attacker to death — a scene that could have come right out of one of her company’s video games.

The film keeps up the feel of being a serious drama, though shades of humor do peek through, most often when people get together for a drink or at a party. But it’s difficult to keep track of who is sleeping with whom. That becomes even harder when Michelle gets the hots for her married neighbor Patrick, who appears to be interested in her “under-the-table” advances at one of those parties.

I can’t recall any film featuring a cast of characters that are so screwed up. That takes part of the edge off of the watching it because most of these people can be laughed at, derisively. Yet things keep getting worse between many of them. The stupid Vincent and the awful Josie grow to hate each other, though there’s a brief reprieve when their son is born, at least until the question of who the real father might be is presented. And while the rift between Michelle and both of her parents widens — she thinks her mother’s behavior is ridiculous; she curses at her father when his image shows up on TV news — a worse one is building between her and Vincent.

The script, which is based on the novel “Oh ...” by Philippe Djian, presents Michelle as a woman who is filled with lust and hate, and to whom bad things keep happening. The eventual revelation of her attacker’s identity leads to some odd twists in the story and to the idea that she’s tired of being a victim. Even stranger, the film culminates in a grandiose act of violence, then manages to end on what can only be described as a questionably happy note.

— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.

“Elle”

Written by David Birke; directed by Paul Verhoeven

With Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Christian Berkel, Anne Consigny, Jonas Bloquet, Charles Berling

Rated R