Men take note – you are all sexist pigs addicted to pornography simply seeing women as whores. Or at least that’s according to Malgorzata Szumowska’s new film Elles.
Juliette Binoche is Anne, a journalist who is writing a piece about student prostitutes for the French magazine “Elle”. The film takes place over one day as Binoche puts together the article, with her interviews with the two students Charlotte (Anais Demoustier) and Alicja (Joanna Kulig) recounted by a series of flashbacks. Charlotte comes from a working class background and is striving to cast off the stench of her humble beginnings. Alicja is a Polish student studying in France and has turned to prostitution as a result of not being able to find anywhere to live.
It’s obvious that Binoche initially dislikes the girls and can not understand why they are not ashamed or humiliated by their acts and can’t seem to grasp how it makes them feel empowered. It is almost like Germaine Greer trying to show Paris Hilton the error of her ways. The interviews then cut between quite explicit scenes of the girls at work with various clients. These are numerous and after the first one, seem rather pointless and boring all they appear to be illustrating is the depraved actions of men. It dredges up the same tired and clichéd subjects that are always covered in films that deal with prostitution.
Binoche slowly warms to the girls, getting drunk with Alicja with the suggestion of something more between them, although never shown. The characters of the students are well developed and given a good emotional weight by the actors allowing us to fully be immersed in their mind. The way in which Binoche goes about writing the article is the hardest element to believe, we see her swanning around her apartment in her robe smoking and drinking wine as she grapples with the enormous complexities of the subject. Giving a masterclass in gurning, head scratching and long distance looks, how she manages to get any words on the page is amazing.
Binoche is woman. She washes the clothes, cooks, is worried about her children, cares about her figure all whilst holding a job down. Meanwhile her bastard husband (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) just goes to work and doesn’t give a damn about anything; he can’t even be bothered to pick up the wine for the dinner, sacre bleu! He traipses in asking Binoche not to bother his dinner guests with her feminist silliness and can’t sympathise with the plights of the prostitutes. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such a one dimensional, sexist, and insulting portrayal of men. There is not one man in the film whose character is clean, apart from their seven year old son who Binoche admits is only days away from being consumed by pornography.
There are glimpses of a really good film here especially towards the end when husband and wife, obviously with problems, try to figure out the very nature of relationships and each person’s part in them. With great believable performances from the two students it had real promise, but unfortunately it goes for tits over talk and results in a boring sexist rant on the evils of men.
France, Poland / Directed By: Malgorzata Szumowska / Written By: Malgorzata Szumowska, Tine Byrckel / Starring: Juliette Binoche, Anaïs Demoustier, Joanna Kulig, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing / 99min / Drama / Release: 20 April 2012 (Irl/UK), 27 April 2012 (US)