Elles (2011)

Director: Malgorzata Szumowska
Writer: Malgorzata Szumowska, Tine Byrckel
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Anaïs Demoustier, Joanna Kulig, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing

Anne (Juliette Binoche) is a journalist for Elle magazine who is trying to finish an article about students who double as prostitutes in Paris. While the deadline looms, Anne finds herself more and more obsessed with the two girls – Charlotte (Anaïs Demoustier) and Alicja (Joanna Kulig) – she interviewed and their experiences, gradually calling the sterility of her own life into question.

Elles is an ambitious project and one that doesn’t always achieve its aims or is faultless. But in the end it’s an engaging and interesting film with a wonderful lead.

The focus of this movie is Juliette Binoche and her Anne. And since Juliette Binoche is absolutely fantastic that works very well. The way Anne slips into the world of her interviewees, how she is ever more obsessed with their stories and how that starts affecting the relationship with her own family is perfectly done and very engaging.

I also enjoyed to get such an unabashedly female perspective: in the way Anne’s double shift as housewife and journalist is shown without much fuss, but nevertheless shown. In the way Anne starts to rebel against the constraints of her life after discovering her own lust again. In the way the two girls see their prostitution as empowering.

But in that last part lies also the movie’s biggest problem: it doesn’t really say much about the dark side of prostitution at all. It glosses over things and even the one scene where one of the girls is actually raped is more arousing than horrifying, especially since it’s basically played as one of Anne’s fantasies.

And I’m not saying that every prostitute is abused and that every situation they face is threatening and dangerous. But they are in a high risk job. That is one of the reasons why they also usually have pimps in some form (there are no pimps in this film) – they are not only greedy slave drivers, but also a safety net. To make it look like prostitution is made of fancy hotel-rooms, mostly attractive clients, a lot of money and leaves the prositutes with power in most situation does seem like a gross misrepresentation.

Summarising: As long as you take this film as Anne’s story and not as an examination of prostitution, it is an absolutely interesting and engaging film.


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