Jamie Fraser reviews Juliette Binoche's latest
by Jamie Fraser
Monday 30th April 2012, 10:03 BST
Beautiful university students prostituting themselves to pay tuition fees. Yes, it sounds like a Varsity exposé, but psychological drama Elles finds the pathos in its sleazy premise. A Polish production set in Paris, the film stars Juliette Binoche as a journalist tasked with interviewing two women who lead such double lives. The further she delves into the story, the more she finds her own less-than-perfect home life called into question.
As in 2011's superlative Certified Copy, Binoche brings an unexpected vivacity and depth to a role that could have easily relied on dour stares. As the film flashes back to the two very different interviews she conducts, we see her adopting different roles for every situation - the hard-nosed journalist, the nagging mother or the vulnerable housewife. The two young students she interrogates are just as naturalistic and the film's screenplay keenly points out the appeal of their chosen profession, as well its heart-wrenching turmoil.
Though the Parisian setting certainly provides atmosphere, director Małgorzata Szumowska has an eye for crafting almost Lynchian set-pieces of comic morbidity. The most memorable scene finds a prostitute and her elderly client singing along to 'Les Feuilles Mortes' naked on a sofa, after committing a particularly obscene act. Elle is at times very difficult to watch, but (with one awful exception) the staging of the sex scenes pointedly puts the clients in the role of the demeaned party. If you're a miserablist looking for a last taste of existential despair before the sticky-sweetness of blockbuster season, Elles is excellently acted, relatively thought-provoking and well worth a watch.