Monday, May 7, 2012
Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska
Where & When: Nuart Theater, West Los Angeles, CA. April 28, 2012 7:30PM
I have previously stated that Juliette Binoche is one of the greatest actresses working today and it bears repeating, most especially after witnessing her most recent performance in "Elles". As a feminist writer for Elle Magazine struggling to complete an article on college girls who turn to hooking to earn extra money which causes her to reexamine her own views and look at her privileged upper middle-class life and how she fits in, the actress is utterly beguiling and endlessly fascinating. Whether looking completely tortured while trying to complete her mundane house chores when she should be finishing her long overdue assignment, the sense of disappointment as she discovers her husband and teenage son both watch porn or giggling like a teenage girl when she gets drunk for the first time with one of the young working girls she's interviewing, Ms Binoche never delivers a single false moment. It is largely an internal performance as she spends much of her time alone on screen as we watch the joy, frustration or indifference flicker across her beautifully translucent face.
Anne (Binoche) searches for subjects for her article by calling ads and arranging appointments with these girls in the hope that they will share their stories with her. She finds two girls and while both are reluctant to speak to her, Anne manages to earn their trust. Charlotte (Anaïs Demoustier), who goes by the working name "Lola", comes from a modest middle-class background who feels that turning tricks is much easier than flipping burgers to earn money while attending school. However, Charlotte's unsuspecting boyfriend is feeling the effects of her occupation as she doesn't have much desire to satisfy any of his needs. Alicja (Joanna Kulig) is a street-smart Polish immigrant who has come to France to attend college but all of her belongings are stolen shortly after she arrives. With few options available to her, Alicja soon turns to prostitution as a way to help supply income for her education.
Anne is quite surprised to learn that these girls are far from traumatized by this work and appear to be well-adjusted and content. As she spends more time with these girls, Anne abandons her own moral judgements which allows her to openly share her views and feelings with them. This leads to Anne to question her comfortable lifestyle as she is feeling greatly unappreciated by her family. The exploits of these young women also make Anne realize how frustrated she is sexually as she wishes she could be more at ease as these girls
Malgorzata Szumowska, a celebrated Polish filmmaker who co-produced Lars von Trier's 2009 creepfest, "Antichrist", has taken an uncommon approach on the world's oldest profession as she touches on a feminist perspective of prostitution that these women are still victims despite making their own choices but also seems to offer the glossy male fantasy of gorgeous young women who are sweet-natured, happy-go-lucky and love their job. "Elles" is not told chronologically which makes the film seem choppy and fragmented as the scenes are not assembled together in a clear, associative way. Since we are not given much back story or proper introduction to some of the characters, this adds confusion as to where we are in the plot or how these new additions fit.
The scenes showing how the girls make their living are quite graphic and earned "Elles" the dreaded NC-17 rating which was accepted, surprisingly, without fanfare or argument. The sexuality is not presented to necessarily titillate but to simply show how these modern young women looked at this as nothing more than a part-time job in which they are in full control but also uninhibited enough to the point where sometimes they even enjoyed certain aspects of the more kinky sex acts they're paid to perform.
Although it offers nothing particularly fresh to the age-worn topic of working girls, "Elles" is slight but still fairly entertaining. The real reason to catch this film is to view another outstanding performance by Ms Binoche who is capable of making even the most simple gestures or mood seem effortless, rich and captivating.