Elles Review: ‘Ellish
Juliette Binoche plays Anne, a Parisian journalist struggling to finish her article on students who’ve turned to prostitution to fund their educations, all the while trying to manage her wayward family and a forthcoming dinner party.
But with a deadline fast approaching, she begins to question her own bourgeois lifestyle and has flashbacks to her interviews with the girls – Alicja (Joanna Kulig) and Charlotte (Anais Demoustier).
Somewhere here, there’s an examination of modern female sexuality. The girls’ experiences are never shown as wholly unpleasant and there’s an element of empowerment which goes hand in hand with their inherent exploitation. That might have seemed like juicy controversial material 10 years ago but in the modern age of Belle Du Jour, it barely raises an eyebrow.
However, the weighty themes of the subject material are drastically undermined by director Malgorzata Szumowska’s insistence on shooting graphic reconstructions of the girls’ experiences like a softcore porn director, which are voyeuristically titillating, but rarely illuminating.
It’s all framed through the eyes of Anne, presumably to ease us into the seedy world of prostitution gently and make the film a little more relatable. But in doing so, her mid-life crisis seems like ephemeral set dressing in a film which touches on much more significant subject material.
Thinking about the girls’ encounters causes Anne to contemplate the sexual drought at the heart of her own marriage but the way in which this is handled – notably a scene in which Binoche jimmies open some scallops before squishily mashing them between her hands and sniffing her fingers – is at best unconvincing and at worst laughable.
Binoche is on typically great form and the both supporting actresses are strong – but the muddled direction and tone often makes it feel less like an exploration of modern day sexuality and more like a cheapo exploitation film.