SPECIAL TREATMENT ( Sans queue ni tête). Starring Isabelle Huppert, Bouli Lanners and Sabila Moussadek. Directed by Jeanne Lebrune. 95 minutes. MA 15+ (Strong sex scenes, sexual themes and coarse language).
The idea is probably more successful than the execution in Special Treatment. Not that it is not an interesting film with some fine performances, but it is more than bit schematic in its structure and the characters are often more enigmatic than real.
That said, the film’s main thesis (and it is a thesis) is that there may not be much difference between the prostitute and the psychotherapist in their dealings with their clients, working with their minds, the subconscious and conscious, taking money for services which allegedly are improving the client. We see something of both, though the film is suggestive of eroticism rather than erotic and suggestive of therapy rather than offering psychological insights.
We are introduced to Alice, making salacious puns in an antiques shop and taunting the owner. We discover that she is a prostitute with her own apartments and discreet contact with clients, some of whom she likes, others not, and adapts her interactions with them to their own fantasies. The poster has her dressed like a schoolgirl, which she does for one of the men.
We are introduced to Xavier, a rather pompous psychiatrist, who bores peoples at parties, talks shop, to the aggravation of his wife who is falling out of love with him. We see him at work, sitting behind his patient (clients of both professions lie down in their sessions), communicating boredom to the audience, with not even an ‘mmm’ to the patient’s stream of consciousness. He is probably thinking of some artwork he can now afford – as does Alice who likes beautiful objects in her flat.
There are several other characters, prostitute friend, clients, other psychiatrists. Since Alice is beginning to self-question, she approaches a mutual friend of herself and Xavier and seeks out the possibility for some therapy. Not everyone wants to take her on. Particularly interesting (and the film comes more alive) is an encounter with a doctor who works at a hospital for the mentally disabled, a good man with his patients. She has an outburst against him, alleging that he is refusing her because of her profession. However, he and some of his patients, serve as a catalyst for calming her down. In the meantime, Xavier has calmed down and reunion with his wife seems more than a possibility.
Bouli Lanners is convincing as the therapist in need of therapy. But, any film with Isabelle Huppert is dominated by her. The same here. She has made many, many films since the mid-1970s but is still one of the world’s most telling actresses. She must be as the film ends with a long close-up of her face – enigmatic and challenging.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out July 7, 2011.