Elles review

This dry and drab subtitled French drama stars Binoche as Anne, a journalist whose next assignment is on the sex industry, specifically the plight of young prostitutes. She highlights two test cases, interviewing pretty Lola (Demoustier) in a park and sexy Alicja (Kulig) at the courtesan's spacious flat. Both girls are vulnerable and troubled – Lola with her housing project existence and Alicja with her lack of love – but treat their respective jobs with matter-of-fact calmness and acceptance.

They're not ashamed of what they do by any means, but not proud either. Independently minded women, they earn money by having sex with strangers and are amenable to that way of life. We see them with their clients and their sexual assignations are grim, degrading, disturbing – never remotely arousing or titillating. Their lifestyles have an effect on Anne. She becomes unhinged slightly by the two girls. They reawaken her sexuality but her communication skills with husband and family take a turn for the worse.

The film casts no judgement – never does it try to comment or pontificate. It just shows the characters for what they are and we the audience look on with, well, indifference.  One critic at the screening I attended was snoring loudly by the mid section. The performers are convincing and adept but never once do we care for them. We observe them with detachment. It's a cold, clinical study done with smooth efficiency, but it's never engaging enough, always keeping one at a distance.

Elles at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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