Elles. Starring Juliette Binoche, Anais Demoustier and Joanna Kulig. Directed by Malgoska Szumowska. 98 minutes. Rated R (drugs, sex scenes and extreme violence).
Elles has a Polish perspective on its themes, from writer-director, MalgorzataSzumowska, as well as a French perspective with the story set in Paris. It also has a strongly female point of view with director, star and themes.
Juliette Binoche plays a reporter for Elle Magazine, engaged in research on an article about young French students who work as call girls to supplement their income. (This was a theme in John Duigan’s 2012 Australian film, Careless Love.) The two young women, one French, one Polish, become very frank in their discussions with the journalist, Anne, and their stories are visualized quite explicitly for the audience.
There is more, however, than the elaborating of the two stories, the revealing of the characters of the two young women who become much more involved in their work, sensual gratification as well as the possibilities of a more comfortable, even luxurious life. We are focused on Anne, a day in her life as she is finishing her feature article.
Her life at home is quite ordinary, a teenage son with resentment problems, critical of the coldness in his parents’ marriage, a younger boy preoccupied with video games. The couple are expecting his boss and wife to dinner that day. Anne cleans, cooks, is concerned about her son. But, all through the day, there are flashbacks to the meetings with the two young women, her growing involvement with them, something of an obsession, but also letting her imagination work, compensating the arid sexuality of her own marriage.
Towards the end, the film indulges in some fantasy at the dinner table. But, then, the next morning, everything is back to normal – but we are not sure how real this is or whether it is a challenge to what the French call bourgeois life.
With films and topics like this, there is the question of how real is the treatment, how prurient. And, depending on the experience of the audiences, whether this is a world we have seen in other films or whether there is something new with insights. Perhaps it is best to say that the world of the call girl students has been treated in other films but the strength of this one is Juliette Binoche’s complex portrait of Anne and the effect of her interviews on her own life.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out February 7, 2013.