Harvey Critic - 07/04

Review: Elles

The Wall Street Journal reported the other day that student debt in America has reached one trillion dollars. But you've gotta go to college if you want a good job, so what's a kid to do? The Polish director Malgoska Szumowska finds optimism in a trade that any hot young co-ed could do with no overhead and no tools required. She can turn tricks by placing an ad for an escort service (wink wink) and presumably vetting the men who want to give custom to this labor-intensive trade. How to show a movie audience what it's like to be a beautiful young student-sex worker? Set up a couple of interviews with those who ply their wiles as part-time hookers and make sure that the interviewer knows not only to avoid the usual "Don't you want to do anything better with your life?" but also to cast an envious eye at her subjects. Never mind that Anne (Juliette Binoche), the interviewer for the prestigious Elle magazine, has spacious digs in Paris thanks, presumably, to the income her husband Patrick (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) earns, but money isn't everything as we learned recently from Terence Davies's far superior film "The Deep Blue Sea."

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Kino Lorber

Reviewed for Arizona Reporter by Harvey Karten

Grade: C+
Director: Malgoska Szumowska
Screenwriter: Malgoska Szumowska, Tine Byrckel
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Anais Demoustier, Joanna Kulig, Loui-Do de Lencquesaing
Screened at: Broadway, NYC, 3/22/12
Opens: April 27, 2012

Here Binoche enters the role of a contemporary Mrs. Dalloway, the British socialite who in 1923 has a visit from a former flame that forces her to reconsider her choice in marriage. Anne, assigned an article on college girls who turn tricks to afford tuition and decent Paris apartments, is made to consider her own identity in interviewing and getting involved with two women barely out of their teens. One is a Polish émigré, Alicja (Joanna Kulig), a showy blonde who looks the part of a professional, The other, Charlotte (Anaïs Demoustier), is a girl-next-door type whose boyfriend has no idea what she does to make money. Charlotte in particular tells Anna that the work is not unpleasant at all, that the middle-class, middle-aged men patronize her because she does things that their wives would not. As Anna appears to compare her own sterile marriage to the joys of these young people, she becomes their friend more than a detached writer, in one scene lustily eating pasta and drinking with Alicja. Her husband Patrick, meanwhile, resents his wife's immersion in the article, complaining that she is not adequately disciplining their two sons, Stéphane and Florent-the former addicted to video games, the latter to weed.

For no rational purpose other than titillation, director Szumowska immerses the audience in a graphic display of sexual encounters, one with a sadist who makes a perverted use of a wine bottle, others with men who range from self-confident, ordering Charlotte "gentle, faster, stop," to at least one other who seems terrified. There are two ways of interpreting the action. One is the trite idea that women who do housework are engaged in free prostitution, though that seems unlikely in this case given Patrick's seeming disgust with the sexual aspect of his marriage. The other is that a French bourgeois who likes good wine, good food, and classical music re-evaluates herself and is depressed about her own up-tightness. She's not the only one: her rebellious teen son Florent suggests that mom share the marijuana with him to loosen her up.

Juliet Binoche has enjoyed better roles such as Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy," where she performs in the role of a woman who invites a British writer to a small village where revelations take place. In fact, one might say that she is humiliating herself by appearing in a film this unfocused, this laden with lurid sexual scenes, on a subject not particularly original and with dialogue not only banal but predictable. What would you expect two intelligent young women to report that sophisticated magazine readers would not already know? Stay for the credits because Beethoven's Seventh sounds grand on the big screen.

Rated NC-17. 96 minutes © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online.

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