Film Review by Kam Williams
Jaded Journalist Reevaluates Marriage in Midlife Crisis Drama
Anne (Juliette Binoche) is a stressed-out investigative reporter for Elle Magazine, stationed in Paris, who’s a good candidate for a lifestyle makeover, given the overwhelming demands of her job and her family. Her boss has been pressuring her to meet the deadline for the article she’s currently working on about college students who moonlight as high-priced call girls.
Meanwhile, she has her hands full on the home front because her husband, Patrick (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), shows no interest in bearing his half of the burden. Hence, she has to shoulder the full responsibility of motivating their stoner (Francois Civil) and couch potato (Pablo Beugnet) sons to do more than lounge around the flat with a view.
Although Anne also needs to attend to her bed-ridden father (Jean-Marie Binoche), her hubby still expects her to play the perfect hostess by whipping up a gourmet meal the evening he invites his boss over for dinner. And to add insult to injury, he goes out of his way to warn his wife not to embarrass him by making any unpleasant conversation at the dinner table.
Being married to such a cad, is it any surprise that Anne might start to take a personal interest in Charlotte (Anais Demoustier) and Alicja (Joanna Kulig), the two young prostitutes being profiled in her piece? That is precisely what transpires in Elles, a steamy, midlife crisis drama directed by Malgoska Szumowska.
Initially, Anne interviews her subjects in a professional manner, posing probing questions about whether they enjoy indulging the fetishes of their assorted clients, in the process eliciting very graphic descriptions of their kinky liaisons. But the miserably-married journalist becomes intrigued, once it’s apparent that they’ve taken to the world’s oldest profession like fish to water.
Then, against her better judgment, Anne shares shots of vodka with the seductive Charlotte, only to cross another line by experimenting with lesbianism. The glaring juxtaposition of the happy hookers with the pathetic plight of the unappreciated supermom seems to suggest that the wife taken for granted might actually be in a worse predicament.
Reminiscent of the incendiary offerings of the iconoclastic Catherine Breillat like Romance (1999) and Fat Girl (2001), Elles is a thought-provoking immorality play apt to stir up just as much controversy by virtue of its seemingly-gratuitous sex scenes alone. Does the fact that the director’s a feminist and the star is an Oscar-winning actress provide sufficient artistic cover for carnal clinches which border on soft porn? Does the explicit eroticism serve to advance the plot or was it included purely for titillation purposes?
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated NC-17 for nudity and explicit sexuality.
In French, Polish and Arabic with subtitles.
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: Kino Lorber